Every pastor or local church elder has wondered how to rekindle fervor in the hearts of members who have “fallen away” or stopped attending church. Many churches periodically send letters to those who are “on vacation” from church, reminding them they are missed or, more bluntly, asking if they still wish to be members. Many call them “missing members.” Some churches probably communicate this in ways that are sensitive and caring. But really, what is our goal? To clean up the church books? To spiritually connect with those who are no longer with us? If they are truly “missing,” we don’t know where they are, so how can we even send them a letter? What about those who are “missing” spiritually? What if you had a letter you could send to all your members to remind them of their church’s purpose and mission and to inspire them to be actively involved? Here’s a letter that might help.
I hope you are well. This is a note to let you know that we value you in the midst of our struggle to build community. In a world that’s falling apart at the seams, there are very few places one can go to be encouraged. The world has embarked on a journey that seems to be taking us away from civility, compassion, and grace. Each day, social media lights up with heartbreaking exchanges between people who are frustrated, angry, and afraid. The divisions between political opponents are so strong that some are ready to take up arms to defend their ideas. The idea of working together, especially with those with different beliefs, seems to have fallen by the wayside. Such dialogue has become awkward and dismissive.
One songwriter’s lyrics cry out: “Somebody show me the people who care, and who live by the Golden Rule. / They shine like the stars in a world that is bare, and broken through and through. / They are willing to die for tomorrow and give up their freedom as well, / To love and live like the Father, and be under His magical spell. / And be under His glorious spell.”
We are attempting to build such a community: one that is based on Matthew 7:12, where everyone is treated as they would like to be treated—one that values people and truth. But we are an imperfect bunch who sometimes get it wrong and come across as arrogant know-it-alls. This is why we need God’s forgiveness and why we need to forgive each other.
By grace, we are hopeful in the face of today’s madness, because we want to be God’s salt and light, to spread the hope of a better world throughout our community. We want this passage to describe us:
“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord. Instead, ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.’ Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good” (Rom 12:9–21, NLT).
Please note this is not a solicitation for funds or any other hidden agenda. We are simply saying that at a time when the world is faced with unprecedented change and uncertainty, we choose to be a community of hope!
—In His joy, (elder’s name)
If you resonate with this and want to help us create such a community, we welcome your participation and feedback!
__ Yes, count me in!
__ No, I don’t need this, or I have another community elsewhere.
My name is: _______________________________
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Rich DuBose is the Director for Church Support Services for the Pacific Union Conference. This article first appeared in Best Practices for Adventist Ministry. It has been lightly edited for Elder’s Digest.