What are people doing about declaring members "inactive" and ministering to them?

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We have had members of council become wary of using the category of inactive members.  Even explained as a category for accounting purposes it seems to carry a disciplinary tone.  What are people doing about decdlaring members inactive and ministering to them?

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Participant

Hi Dan, 

The topic of inactive members rarely fails to raise the anxiety level in the council room. Some members will seek to equate the presence on the membership rolls with membership in the Kingdom and so if the church removes an individual from the rolls we somehow have banned them from heaven itself. I dont think that is true and while it is true that there are spiritual health issues reflected in the attendance at church, there is much more to it.

I have found 2 things helpful. 1) Be current. All of the hurtful aspects of telling a member they have been lapsed are multiplied many many times over if it has been allowed to drag on for more than 6 months to several years. Once you notice that members have absented themselves (for longer than is customary) , that is your clue to make the call or stop by and check in with them.  That is not just the responsibility of the officebearers but the entire church community.

2) Be clear that the actions of council (if lapsing becomes necessary) are a result of choices that the members themselves have taken. They may have moved to another church or another town and simply are not concerned about membership in a previous church. 

This is a matter of concern to many and I'm sure there is much more that can and maybe needs to be said, but I'll stop here except to encourage you to spend as much or more time developing new relationships and members as you do with those who have chosen to step back from active membership. 

Frank

We are not talking about lapsing memberships, just listing people as inactive.  It may be seen as a step towards lapsing, but the goal is to avoid that.  People are reluctant to even use the term inactive, which is not published with any names.

Perhaps there a couple of aspects to being inactive.   In some cases, there are members who attend somewhat regularly, but are relatively inactive in any type of participation.   They come three times out of four sundays, come at the last minute, leave almost immediately when over,  and do not participate in family church life.  Encouragement and "trickery" :) is required to increase their activity. 

Other inactives who sometimes do not attend church for a month or more with no real good reasons such as vacation or illness, require a different approach. Phone calls, visit, visits, and prayer is needed.   Sometimes personal relationships need to be mended or begun. 

But in the long run, a persistent inactive who does not attend is not really a member of the church;  they have lapsed their attendance and participation.   They need to be aware that membership is not having your name on a list, but it is being part of something, participating in the life.   It is not really the church that lapses their membership;  they lapse their own membership. 

Some churches have more attenders than members, maybe because they sense the importance and committment of membership.   But some of these attenders are more committed than some christians who are members (if you compare some churches, or some denominations to each other). 

A list of inactives ought not to exist for accounting purposes, but for ministering purposes.  (or did I misunderstand your use of the term "accounting".?)   It is not to keep track of people on a list , but to keep track of what is being done with them as individuals.   Did someone call them?  Did someone visit them?   What is bothering them?   Are we praying for them?   Are they short of finances?   Do they feel discouraged?   etc.   This should become important right away, when they are missed once or twice, not wait until they have been gone for three months. 

Community Builder

I think the original author Means "accounting"--I know many churches do use different categories of members for the 'levy' of denoninational quotas [I know they are called recommendations, but some think of these as "levies".]  Because with fewer active members ones 'quota' is reduced.

I have found that 40 yr old and younger really don't seem to care much about 'membership' as such. They can be very active or in-active as the case may be, but the reponsibility of actually letting the church know about transferring membership is about the last thing they think about. The bigger the church gets the tougher it is to keep track of 'memberships'. Smaller churches hvae it a bit easier because most people know everyone.  Especially when folk leave for study and come back in the summer and Christmas, then get a temporary job somewhere, the tracking gets tricky.

August Guillaume

Participant

Amen to August's comment!  We have been reducing our membership list by multiple lapses.  But these are of households and persons who have not been in our congregation for sometimes years.  What we are arriving at it a closer proximity of our membership list with our active participants in the church (we count attending 3 out of 4 Sundays as active, even 2 out of 4 is not unusual in our context as people seem always visiting some relative or friend in their church for some special occasion, we receive such visting persons more and more on any given Sunday.)

It took a bit of explaining to Council and congregation what lapsing is (a non-discipline removal of a person from the membership of the local congregation because they are either moved away, or are local but worshipping elsewhere now).  It has also taken some effort to not spend inordinant amounts of time at meetings and on the phone or email trying to reach persons who are walking with the Lord in another congregation or have moved out of town.  In the past elder after elder, term after term would repeat the discussion that they are having a hard time contacting so-and-so who hasn't been a part of this congregation's life for years.  We are called to minister to and disciple the congregation we are in and with, not with people who are not present in the same town even. 

During the Dutch immigration of the 1940's-50's in Canada, members (often? sometimes?) came to CRC's with membership statements in hand. The reformed churches they left behind, said farewell, gave them an attestation of their life and faith in the local church, and removed them from the membership list of that church they were leaving.  The responsibility of a member moving away to find another church home is their own.  In our context we have returned closer to that practice again.  If a member is moving out of town permanently, we encourage them before they leave to find a new church home in their new locale, even make some suggestions and may even contact a potential church ti give them a heads up.  But after they move, it is one more email or call (if they have given us a forwarding contact info) to check if they have found a church home and that we will be removing them off our membership list.  We offer to send them a membership statement if that helps them find a church home. 

Sometimes, even years later, some former member will contact us to "transfer their membership" to some church they are a part of now.  We go ahead and send a transfer on their behalf, noting the date they moved away from our church.  If someone needs a statement of membership history with us, it is no problem to send that along any time after they have left.  This is all for those who move away.

For those who still live locally but cease to be a part of the congregation, after connecting with them to discern the reasons, and if there is no cause for any discipline, we inform them that their membership here will be lapsed unless they return to active participation in the our congregation again.  And if they do return in the future, we let them know that we would welcome them back with open arms.  Want to worship elsewhere? No harm, no foul, just know that where you are worshipping is the church that you should actively support and be engaged with.  This whole process has brought some closure to discussions that have been spinning over and over again at Council for years.  We have gone from about 65 inactive persons to about 15. 

And once sort of "caught up" we are also working to build better tracking methods to know far sooner that someone is no longer showing up at worship or elsewhere in the church's ministry.  This of course does not apply to shut-ins, deployed military persons, or students away at school or temporary absenses because of work. 

I believe the whole situation that we generally assume people know what membership means and entails, needs to move toward up front, intentional, regularly verbalized realities of membership (being discipled, worshipping, giving financially and time and talents, reaching and serving others in the church or community, praying and being in the Word, etc).  We need to build a culture of accountability to and openness with one another as fellow disciples.  Perhaps in the adult profession of faith form we should re-word the question that touches on submitting to the church's authority to resemble the 1995 form for children's profession of faith, "Will you allow us, your church family, to encourage you in your faith and hold you responsible to your commitment to Jesus and His church?"  And if we understand "church" to be inclusinve of but also beyond our local congregation and denomination, then perhaps we can stop using up time and energy on persons who are simply following Jesus in another congregation or denomination, and start spending time and energy reaching people who don't  know or have walked away from Jesus and His Church.  Thanks for reading all this!  You are patient!

Colin.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that the term "inactive member" didn't exist in the CRC before 1998.  When it was introduced it was not as a "real" membership catagory but as a financial one, only for the purpose of ministry shares reporting.  The thought being that while someone was placed in "inactive" status, something was being done concurrently with their membership using the already established categories.