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EDITORIAL: Lighting a fire under pew warmers

Many Christians never seem to contribute much at all — in time, sweat or money — to the work of the body.
Pew warmers, we call them.
They’re the focus of “The Other 80 Percent: Turning Your Church’s Spectators into Active Participants,” a new book by Scott Thumma and Warren Bird.
Thumma and Bird tackle what they describe as the problem of churches allowing “half or more of their membership to be completely disconnected and uninvolved.”
“It is amazing to me,” Thumma, a sociologist of religion at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, tells The Christian Chronicle, “that nearly every (minister) is OK with one-third to one-half of their membership never attending, and if they are lucky, 20 percent of members ever doing anything in service, leadership and commitment to the congregation’s life together — a far cry from the Good Shepherd leaving the 99 to find the one lost sheep.”
Notes Bird, with the Dallas-based Leadership Network, the book’s publisher: “Churches are often better at outreach than in-reach. And we’re all in favor of outreach, but there are an awful lot of people connected to your church who say they’d like to reconnect. But for some reason, they haven’t or they don’t know how.”
The researchers suggest making a formal assessment of members’ patterns of involvement.
They argue, too, for strengthening activities that engage members.
And they stress that participation in the work of the body stems from spiritual growth and a person’s spiritual fulfillment.
As the authors put it, “80 percent participation isn’t the goal — spiritual fervor and growth is.”
Beyond the issues raised by the authors, we’d urge church leaders to ask:
• Does the problem lie just with the interest, motivation and maturity of the 80 percent? Or are there realities among the 20 percent that complicate the challenge — such as territorialism by longtime members, tight mini-circles of fellowship that are difficult to break into or a “we’ve always done it this way” approach to church life?
• How do we define involvement? Do we confuse “busyness” (multiple church-related activities per week) with faithfulness and fruitfulness? Does our concept of involvement equate to spiritual growth and maturity?
• Do we value mentoring and personal discipleship of others? Are we personally involved with others and encouraging their sharing in the life of the congregation? Or do we just communicate “be involved” from the distance of the pulpit or church bulletin?
• Do we offer new member orientations and seminars, led by the shepherds and/or ministry staff, that consistently communicate up front that “membership” has its responsibilities, not just its privileges?
Many inactive members simply may not know how or where to get involved. Perhaps they need a personal invitation to serve in a specific way.
God gave each of us talents. Not everyone can preach or lead singing or teach a class. Some might be called to mow the church lawn or bake a casserole for a funeral or develop the HTML code for the church website.
But all can serve in some way.
With God’s help, let’s take steps to transform pew warmers into high performers for the Lord.

  • Feedback
    Ah, the enthusiasm of youth and people of leisure! When I was a district manager, one of the things I appreciated was the fact that there was not always someone “bugging”. I was on the road all week working 80 hours a week and I could come in on the weekend and go to worship God in peace. Today we are self supported missionaries to France and Belgium. When I taught in Marseille a student told me that if he couldn’t sing in the Corale at 6:30 p.m. He would have to look for another job. People in France get home from work until 6:30 p.m.tired My reply was, “Get a job and you will see what it is like.” We have many in the medical field and others who work 80 hour weeks. Don’t bug them. They will grow in their own and God’s time.
    John Paul Hundley
    L’Eglise du Christ
    Brussels, Brussels
    October, 1 2011

    The word business hit me hard. I found myself with more time to devote to God’s work and after a full summer of volunteering that I generated and not the church I question it now with fruitfulness. I am at the building 4 days a week and asked myself “am I needing business to feel good and is there fruitfulness going hand in hand with my efforts”. Territorialism, tight fellowship circles are present and hard to break through and the way we’ve always done it is present. Finally, the newest members have a fellowship circle and are active which provide needed fellowship.. Oh just remember I have to go to OC to help with the freshman move into the dorms…..
    LaReeca Herndon
    Mayfair C of C
    Oklahoma City, OK
    August, 20 2011

Filed under: Editorial Staff Reports

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