Earlier this year (January) I had a post entitled: Churches that spread the “invisible person” syndrome. You can take a look, but it has some similarities to my post yesterday. Yesterday’s post was about our personal lives, and the January post about the church. Do we truly shepherd and care for others, and notice if they go missing?
After the January post, several people left comments and I replied, and I always meant to turn it into another post. Finally, I am.
One shared this: “One question I have, though: How can church people show concern for the missing church person, while still respecting that church person’s right to leave the church or small group? If one were to leave a church or small group, he or she would appreciate people showing concern. At the same time, missing church people may not want to have to explain why they haven’t been showing up at the church or small group, since that could hurt people’s feelings. Nor would they necessarily want to be pressured to come back. Maybe the best way church people can handle this is simply to make sure the person is okay, and call once, not a bunch of times.”
Another this: “Another dynamic is the missing person feeling hounded if asked where they’ve been recently. It’s like defense shields go up when the inquiry is in the church setting as opposed to a place like the gym where you saw it happen.”
These were good points! I’ve never experienced “being hounded” – but I have observed the “being hounded” phenomena. Some people lack sense here. We don’t want to be like a pack of hound dogs.
My thoughts regarding church…
I think this “hounding” can partly be avoided when a church has a proper philosophy behind their small groups or Sunday school classes. At a couple churches I am familiar with, people are encouraged to visit several groups to find a good fit. Every group will have a different dynamic, and we don’t want people to feel trapped in a group. In fact, fear of being stuck is one reason people avoid small groups. If someone new visits a group, they should be warmly welcomed, but no hard feelings if they decide to try other groups.
Andy Stanley’s big church in Atlanta, Georgia takes a similar approach. When a new group begins, it is viewed as a temporary group. The group meets for a certain length of time (I think about 2 months), and sees if the participants connect. If they do, a permanent group forms. If not, no hard feelings, and everyone will try again. Stanley has a book on this…No one wants to be stuck in “small group hell” is the way (I think) he words it.
In contrast, a church in my area has a near opposite approach. You are assigned a group near your home, and visiting groups is discouraged. I once heard it said from the pulpit that any group should work, because simply being Christians is enough to have in common with others. Ugh. Sure our faith unites us, but other factors come into play. I’ve noticed that people who make these types of statements are typically “statistically average people” (in the sociological norm) and/or have laid back personality types – which would naturally make it easier for them to fit in almost anywhere. But what about the rest of us?
Regarding personal outreach…
Reach out in an open ended way. Simply let someone know their absence was noted and that they are missed. Leave it at that – open ended – without a direct question as to why they missed or pressuring them in some way or making a false assumption. Maybe they will respond and tell us why they were absent, maybe not. We can take it from there. We should pray for spiritual sense and discernment in each situation. In some cases, people need to be left alone – while others may need us to keep gently reaching out.
In the originally referenced post, another person commented that there’s a place between “never bothering anyone” and “harassing them all the time.” Find the balance.
By the way, this all assumes that you even notice when someone goes missing. Do you? Please don’t spread the invisible person syndrome. Acknowledge others. Your thoughts are welcome in how to reach out yet not hound people…