This past week I was privileged to lead revival services for a small, rural church in our county. There was a good spirit in each service and very good attendance at each service. Revival services may be a thing of the past in many places, but for this church at this time it seemed like it was a very positive experience.
One of the interesting things that happened occurred as I invited people to the services. Everywhere I went throughout our community I invited people to attend the revival services. Two weeks ago I had an auction and even announced there I would be preaching at this church during this week. The interesting thing was the number of people who told me how they attended that church when they were younger. In fact, I even found out my wife had attended that church with one of her brothers and his wife when she was very young. At the last service I told the church if they could get everyone back who had attended there as a child they wouldn't be able to hold everyone!
Of course, that is true of many of our smaller churches. I don't know why all of these people stopped attending this church. Some may have married and started going to their spouse's church. Some probably quit going due to some disagreement that occurred in the church. The majority probably got out of the habit and aren't going anywhere.
Life does that to people. We can have good intentions but find that life gets in the way. We keep telling ourselves that we will get back in church when we get through this one obstacle, but of course another one soon follows. Soon, we're out of the habit of going to church and unless something drastic occurs in our lives we may never return.
Maybe it's time that our smaller churches begin to invite people back who used to attend there. This could be a good marketing plan for our churches. (I'm sorry if you feel that marketing is not a good word, and if that's the case feel free to use whatever word that makes you more comfortable.) Newspaper ads and radio spots could be used to invite people back to their church home. Church membership rolls could give you the names of people who used to attend, and you could send them a direct invitation. You might even want to plan a special service and an event after the worship service to allow people to get reacquainted.
This should not be used to encourage people to leave churches they may now be attending. This is to reach out to those who have simply dropped out of church life completely. It gives them a reason to return without feeling embarrassed about having been away so long.
This is also not to replace reaching out to unsaved people. The Great Commission is very clear that our purpose as a church is to reach those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But, at this same time we are doing that we can also reach out to those who used to be part of our church family and let them know we would love to see them come back.
Finally, and this will be controversial to some, a church may not want to invite everyone back who has left. Controllers and others who create dissension in the church are not needed. Let them find another place to worship if they choose to do so. You do not need disruptive people who are more interested in pursuing their own agenda than pursuing the vision God has for your church. I have often said I am a believer in back-door revivals. Sometimes, people need to leave a church before God can do great things in the church. Churches do not need to invite back those who have a history of creating problems in the church unless they have repented of their past ways and are ready to move forward with the church.
The good news is that I believe these will be a minority of people. Most who have left are good folks who just got sidetracked by life. Some of them might return to church if they were invited, and I think now is the time to do that.