Sunday's Coming responds:
My first reaction is to encourage you to keep to your instincts to be truly hospitable and allow these folks to relate to your community at the level with which they are happy. (I suppose this is a ‘pastoral’ response – and for what it’s worth, this is the line I always take myself.)
If you’re worried about winning others over to your way of thinking, maybe a Biblical approach would help.
Jesus, of course, calls people to follow him: always did, always will. But nowhere do I see signs of Jesus building anything other than the kingdom of God. Our perspective needs to be a kingdom one, too – not building up our own little empires. Jesus said ‘I will build my church’ - not ‘I will ask you to build churches’. Of course we do build churches and at their best they help God’s people to grow in faithfulness and follow Jesus.
If people in your church are asking you to encourage others to join the fellowship without regard to pastoral need or point of pilgrimage, maybe you could question them ‘why is this right for that person right now?’ - it feels as though there is some unspoken assumption that it is ‘right’ to round up as many sheep as possible: it just isn’t!
Rev Honey says:
There has definitely been a significant increase in the number of persons who regularly attend and financially support our congregation, yet prefer not to become members. This trend doesn’t make sense to those who have “signed on the dotted membership line” over the years.
Some of our members have expressed frustration that I have not “gotten these persons to join.” I explain to them that I have spoken personally with any of these individuals who have given us contact information and, for whatever reason, they do not wish to join. I also explain that the only thing these persons cannot do in the life of our congregation is to vote in congregational meetings. Generally when I say that, the questioners back off.
I think your approach is spot-on. I believe that we need to be intentional about cultivating emotionally healthy relationships that respect people where they are. I do not want to teach co-dependent behavior, sheep-stealing, or an unhealthy focus on “the numbers.” Members and regular attenders alike need to know that they can ask for what they want in our community of faith, and their choices will be honored.Sue adds:
I tend to think along the same lines as our questioner this week. We have some folks who like to pop in from time to time just "for a change of scenery" or just to hear a different kind of sermon, or whatever. I always welcome them, make a point of saying hello and introducing them to at least a few people in our congregation that they may not have met on their last visit.
My sense has sometimes been that we were sort of a calm in the spiritual/theological storm for some of these folks. They were either church-shopping or not content with the theology coming from their present pulpit (this was definitely the case with one family) and needed a place to visit without the hard sell. They came to our church because we have a reputation in the community of being "welcoming but not smothering" as one of our Rev Pals once put it.
Personally, I think people are grown up enough to make a decision about where they will worship without any added pressure. Our little church will continue to be what it is - if a family decides that it is a good fit, we will rejoice in that. On the other hand, if after a few visits it isn't working for them, then all I can do is pray that they find a more appropriate spiritual home.
Also, I'm just not comfortable with even the appearance of "sheep-stealing" by pressuring folks to make a firm commitment and transferring memberships and such. I guess the hard sell just isn't for me.
We have a fairly unanimously opinion among the matriarchs this week. What about the rest of you? What is your experience in this area? How have you handled church members who pressure you to turn on the hard sell? How have you handled visitors from other congregations, especially those who settle in long-term without officially joining? Please share your thoughts!
We have many questions lined up in the queue. If you have a question you want the matriarchs to discuss, please send it to us at email@example.com.