The following article is located at:http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/1996/fall/6l4104.html
Ministry to Missing Members
When this article appeared in LEADERSHIP nearly a decade ago, readers appreciated its insights into a difficult task: working with people who are leaving the church or becoming inactive.
Several years ago while looking through slides I had used in an every-member canvass in my church, I was shocked.
Pictured in the first three slides were three couples who had held key offices during my first year. Now, four years later, those couples were totally inactive. They no longer attended worship, except maybe on Christmas or Easter, made no financial contribution, and had a negative attitude about the congregation.
How could people move from active involvement to total inactivity in just four years? I wondered.
I thought of times I had visited inactive members and seen absolutely nothing happen. In fact, often they were more convinced to stay away after I made the call. I needed to figure out how to keep current members active and enable inactive ones to return.
I went to work on these questions as I pursued a doctorate and have continued to search for answers over the last decade. With a psychologist and a theologian, I designed a research project. Thirteen trained pastors and I interviewed inactive members from four United Methodist congregations to find out what caused them to disappear from church life.
Meeting an APE
We found 95 percent of the people had experienced what we now call an "anxiety-provoking event"-an ape. Subsequent research showed these events usually come in clusters, several apes compounding within six months to a year.
Anxiety is the emotional alarm system triggered by disequilibrium, hurt, or anticipated hurt. The inactive members we visited revealed high levels of anxiety, which drove them from church membership because they were never resolved. Their anxiety fell into four categories.
This anxiety is based on some real, historical event; you could have videotaped what caused it. Normally the event is a snub or an utter lack of church care when a member needed it.
A while back I preached in a church in Vancouver. Two days prior, a family from the church had their home burn to the ground, and their 2- and 4-year-old children died in the fire. How many people went to visit him and his wife? Maybe the pastor, but probably not many parishioners. Most would confess, "I wouldn't know what to say," as if they had to say something.
That event causes reality anxiety. A family experiencing this kind of tragedy would have a hard time returning to a church they felt let them down when they needed them.
Moral anxiety arises when people experience in themselves or others behaviors they believe aren't right.
A lay person called me and said, "I understand you work with churches where people are leaving."
"Our senior pastor has admitted having an affair with a woman in the congregation," he said. "Our associate pastor confessed a homosexual affair with our organist, ...