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How Much Space Do I Need?

Adding a Second Service

Church Growth and Visitation

The Unchurched In Your State

Growth Rates

Church Growth Basics


Ministry to inactive members is a part of church growth that is often overlooked. I think perhaps one of the major reasons for this, is a lack of understanding about inactivity. Let's start by defining the term inactive. An inactive is one who does not support the church, attend, or participate in church activities though he holds church membership. In church growth terms, it is a rule that if a member does not attend church for six months, not including weddings or funerals, he/she is inactive.

I believe more accurately, if we wait six months to classify a member inactive we have missed out on ministry opportunities and could more accurately classify the member as unchurched. Forty-six percent of all Americans drop out of congregational life for at least two years of their lifetime. With that in mind, remember that eighty percent of all inactive members drop out during their first year of church membership, when they are most vulnerable to the enemy.

It is important to remember that inactivity is a process that can be reversed. We are interested in knowing if the person is in the process of becoming inactive. The longer we wait to minister, the less chance we have of being effective. The problem is inactive members look like every other member most of the time. The vast majority of inactive members send a signal to the church when they experience an anxiety producing conflict. These signals include:

Change in attendance habits. This may come in stages and not all together. For example, they may drop out of Sunday School, choir, or other activities before dropping out of the worship service.

Change in conversation. Listen for signals in their conversation. For example, when statements change from, "The way we do it here..." to "The way they want to do it...." you can be certain there is an emotional separation taking place. You can see the opposite process in new members, "The way we did it at First Church..." to "The way they do it at First Church..." when they talk about their previous church.

Critical of leadership and others. Unfortunately, many long time members that have no intention of leaving may also be critical. Don't count on your problems packing up and moving out. When someone is critical, it is generally a matter of the heart. Try asking them to lead in prayer for the person(s) they are being critical of. Prayer changes people and situations by bringing them to God. Complaining changes things by making the situation more unacceptable to God.

Change in habits. When people start acting different it is a sign of turmoil inside. A harder to detect change in habits would be a change in giving. There are many reasons that these symptoms may be present in a person's church life, always indicating a troubled heart, but possibly a detection of a member in the process of inactivity. Ask God to help you be aware of the people around you.

The most effective way to minister to inactive members is to begin ministry in the earliest stages of the process as possible, before they drop out. We must learn not to leave the door open. I am not saying we should not try to retrieve church drop outs, but It is likely to require 6 to 10 hours of visitation to move past the veneer of excuses and into ministry with a true inactive. The longer they have been inactive, the less chance we have of retrieving them for our church. It may do well to develop a strategy with another church to exchange some of those names as fresh door to door prospects.

The reasons for inactivity will fit into one of four basic categories.

Conflict. Research shows conflict is the most common reason for inactivity. The churches that have participated in our Thoughts & Perceptions surveys would certainly support this conclusion as well.

Unmet expectations. When a new member joins, it would be helpful to understand what they expect to give or receive from church membership. Sometimes people are not asked to get involved personally (Open recruitment from the pulpit does not count.) and drop out feeling like they have been overlooked or unappreciated. There would be other reasons for unmet expectations that would fit in this category.

Lack of affinity. This happens when the member can no longer find a relationship between the church and his own goals and values. Plugging into another church would be ideal in this scenario, but many drop out. A clear and simple Mission Purpose Statement can help define what people can expect from your church. There is help in our library at if you need help with this.

Inability to relate. The number one reason for someone to first attend, or join a church is relationships. That door of relationships is the exit door also. When relationships cannot be nurtured, the alternative is dropping out. The strategy being used by Satan, is to break the church up into small disappointed, discouraged manageable groups.

The big question may be then, who is leaving the back door open? There will always be inactive members to deal with, but instead of waiting until the man-hours to reverse the process will be exhaustive, perhaps fighting on the home front is a good place to begin. Answer these questions to see if you are responsible for leaving the door open.

Did you leave the door open? If any of these questions above describe you, then you have left the door open. God bless you as you pray about this and begin to take the edge away from the enemy by implementing new strategies for ministry to prevent members from becoming inactive. Let us know your ideas, and how we can pray for you. If you need help, contact us.

James 5:19-20

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

 Hebrews 10:24-25


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…upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

—  Matthew 16:18