We are reflecting on Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.
Chapter 5 is called “Lost by Neglect.” It’s a vitally important chapter.
Yeakley first describes the many survey responses he received complaining of unfriendly Churches. People visited, attended the entire service, hung around afterward, and no one spoke to them. No wonder they weren’t interested in that congregation!
This is not a doctrinal problem so much as a heart problem, and it’s hardly unique to Churches of Christ. But it’s chronic. I’ve heard countless people voice the same complaint about a great many churches.
You see, we’ve turned God’s church into a social club, and so when we attend, we figure it’s time to mingle with our friends. That means no one mingles with the visitors. It bespeaks an utter loss of mission. There’s no surer way to kill a church than to become so inwardly focused that you aren’t hospitable to visitors.
Another common complaint is the readiness of many congregations to withdraw fellowship — to disfellowship — members for failure to attend, usually without so much as a phone call from a minister or elder. It appears that many of congregations are using withdrawal of fellowship as a mean of paring down their rolls — with very little concern for those affected.
This sort of conduct indicates a lazy, uncaring heart — it’s just so much easier to write a letter telling someone he’s no longer a member than to call and ask whether he’s suffered an illness or otherwise needs the help of his congregation.
Yeakley recommends that congregations adopt small group ministries so that members will be socially connected to the congregation as well as encouraged and strengthened in their spiritual walk by fellow members. Amen!
(Many conservative periodicals routinely sneer at small groups — or, at best, consider them barely tolerable. It’s great to see the GA publish a book that actually recommends them!)
Yeakley also recommends “exit interviews” of those who transfer membership. Again, amen! How will you learn how to do better if you don’t speak with those who leave? And sometimes people are forced to miss several services in a row, due to illness or business or such, and if no one calls them, they conclude they are unloved — and they leave.
These are not hard things to fix. They shouldn’t be doctrinally controversial. But sometimes the hardest changes are the ones that require a change of heart.