A family left the church recently because they didn’t like one of the changes in worship. The pastor had been confronted by the board chair who demanded the pastor “Go after them and bring them back.” The pastor kept his cool and gently sidestepped the confrontation, but gave me (his coach) a call the next day.
“The family that left had five children. Two were active in our youth program and two were fairly regular in our kids’ worship. But here’s what I couldn’t really say to the board chair. First, over the past two years, they had given exactly zero dollars to the church. Second, they came to church, sat in a pew, and did nothing else, other than their children went to their respective age-stage programming. And third, the parents are very needy. There’s always some crisis they’re dealing with and they want the church to intervene. To my knowledge, they’ve never asked for money, but they drip drama wherever they go. I understand the chair’s desire to have them back because our ‘numbers’ just dropped, but I’m not real motivated to chase them down.”
It seems to be that there are three classes of “church members.” There are the Idle, the Faithful Consumers, and the Disciples of Jesus Christ.
1. The Idle
Paul warns the church about the idle on several of occasions. These are people who are parasitic. They “joined” the church, but all they do is suck the life-blood from the congregation and they give nothing back. Paul regularly chastised the church for tolerating the idle who were disruptive in the congregation.
Idlers are often at the heart of complaining and gossip, since they’re not contributing anything else to the church and have lots of time to fill. (My grandma’s favorite saying about idle hands being the devil’s workshop is echoing in my head as I write this.)
What To Do About Idlers
First, Paul repeatedly says that the church is to warn them. And if they are disruptive, they’re to be “avoided” by the rest of the body. I’ll let you decide how far Paul intends you take that.
The second piece of advice isn’t what to do, but what to not do. Under no circumstances give an idler a church leadership position in an effort to “cure” them of their idleness. First, it’s unlikely that they’ll be cured. They’ll be as much of a parasite with the ministry team as they are with the congregation. But second, if you give them a position then you’ve given them power. And an idle person with power is a danger to the church. If someone isn’t investing in the church, they’re not invested in the church. Don’t give them a chance to scuttle the good works that your church is doing.
Finally, if an idler isn’t creating an issue, then “leave them alone.” Keep preaching the gospel. Keep inviting them to participate in Bible studies and prayer groups. Keep trying to model what faithful discipleship looks like. And keep praying for them. Hopefully and prayerfully they’ll take a couple of baby steps into faithfulness. On the other hand, if they are disruptive, you may have to Matthew 18:15–17 them.
2. Faithful Consumers
To be honest, this is probably the majority of your church … the vast majority. We’re not talking the 80-20 rule here, we’re talking the 96 percent rule. The 96 percent rule is simple … the typical church member attends worship and a few other activities and pays what they think the church is worth to them and that’s approximately 96 percent of the average, active church membership.
In most churches, approximately 20 percent of the church’s membership are willing to step up and serve on committees, ministry teams, and volunteer. In the eyes of most church attendees, this 20 percent seems very committed, and they are indeed significantly more committed than the Idlers. However, in the end, their commitment is limited.
I remember when I attended church planter’s bootcamp at the Church Multiplication Training Center in Colorado Springs, one of the presenters asked us, “What’s the number one way you can tell if someone is committed to the new church?” Several answers were offered, but the presenter interrupted and said, “Their giving. And what’s the number two way you can tell if someone is committed to the new church?” Again he interrupted our answers with “Their giving. And what’s the number three way you can tell if someone is committed to the church?” By then we’d figured it out. “The giving!” we all replied.
Regular, sacrificial giving is the primary clue that indicates if someone is really committed to the church.1 And since, only about 2 percent of church members in the US tithe, that suggests the number of really well-committed church members is a teeny-weeny number. So, I provide them another 2 percent grace and rest in the reality that only about 4 percent of a church’s membership is totally committed to the church, to the kingdom, and to the ministry. The rest are in it primarily for what they get out of it and they support it with what they think the church’s services are worth to them.
What To Do About Faithful Consumers
I wish I had a magic pill or even a foolproof formula that would turn Faithful Consumer Church Members into practicing Disciples of Jesus Christ, but I don’t … and I don’t know of anyone who does. Instead, the only way I know to turn consumers into Christians is to disciple them in ways that transform their lives. To be fair, we’ve preached to them, with them, and at them for decades. They’ve attended Sunday school and Bible studies and prayer groups and small groups to no avail. And the only way I’ve seen a consumer church member turn into a Christ-follower is for another faithful Disciple of Jesus Christ to step up and mentor them one-on-one. And even then, it takes a long time to move a consumer into a self-sacrificing, cross carrying rather than card carrying Christian.
3. Faithful, Committed Disciples of Jesus Christ
It’s said that Billy Graham once commented that he thought only about 10 percent of all regularly attending church members were actually Christians. I remember my evangelism professor responded by saying, “I believe Graham was an optimist.”
Whatever the number, most churches have very few cross-carrying Christians, that is, faithful, committed Disciples of Jesus Christ who are faithful to the faith, to the church, and to the Great Commission. We’ve said this before in numerable blog posts and videos and books: a disciple of Jesus Christ makes more disciples of Jesus Christ. And if they’re not making disciples of Jesus Christ, then they’re not faithful, committed disciples of Jesus Christ. In fact, if they’re not making more disciples, then they fall into the second group above.
It’s a rare church that has a number of these disciples … and those rare churches that have more than just a couple of them are not in decline because the faithful, committed disciples of Jesus Christ are busy growing the church by sharing the gospel, by sharing their faith, by investing in relationships with the Nones and Dones, and by ultimately contributing to the church’s growing number of conversion baptisms.
What To Do About Disciples
Love them. Support them. Encourage them. Help them make more of them. And at all costs, protect them from the Faithful Consumers and the Idlers who will do pretty much anything in their power to run them off because the faithful always make the rest of us look so very, very unfaithful.
So, that leaves me one question for you. Are you serious about reaching unbelievers for Jesus or are you too busy taking care of your Idlers and Faithful Consumer members (who aren’t making more disciples!)? Pastor, if you’re serious about the former, you would probably do well in my Growing Church Network – a 90 day training immersion that will walk you through a process that will turn you into a Church Growth Catalyst for your congregation.
If you’re a North American Pastor, then let’s talk about your goals, you challenges, and your commitment level. If there’s a match, I’ll invite you to be a part of the Network. If not, we’ll have had a good conversation about your church’s future and you’ll leave knowing what your next steps are.
1 Yes, there are a few, scattered church members who tithe, but do so in order to wield power. But there are other signs that these are Faithful Consumers rather than Committed Disciples of Jesus … see Galatians 1:6 for details.