by Brett Talley
The moment of panic. We’ve all felt it at different times and in different ways. You are in a conversation about a specific family or person from church and, all of a sudden, you realize that you can’t recall the last time you actually saw the person you are talking about.
Maybe if you work in youth ministry, you’ve gone through the roster of an upcoming trip or event and wondered why so and so hadn’t signed up. Then that has you thinking, I‘m not even sure I‘ve seen him in the last month!
As church leaders, we want everyone who walks through our doors and into our ministries to feel wanted, loved and supported. Because of that, the following scenario is probably a fear that we all have had at some point:
someone doesn’t attend in a few weeks ->
they never hear from the church during their absence ->
they conclude the church doesn’t care that they haven’t come back ->
they choose to go elsewhere or, worse, stop going to church completely.
So, how can we avoid that? What systems can we create so people or families aren’t falling through the cracks? How do you strike the balance between letting someone know they are missed and them feeling like they dodged a bullet by not going back to the cult that won’t stop stalking them.
If this isn’t challenging enough, throw in the fact that “regular church attendance” means something completely different than it did 20 years ago. How do you know when someone really has been absent or if it’s just their rhythm?
Like many of you, I work with the next generation. I work more directly with youth, but also help lead our kids’ ministry. In each of those ministries, there are some built-in systems that help us know if someone has been missing. Due to them being minors, we have a check-in system for all kids and youth, birth through 18.
Having a check-in system for minors is a convenience that does not exist in the realm of ministry with adults. I can imagine few things that would turn adults away quicker in our culture than asking them to check in every Sunday morning before going in to worship. This creates some challenges for church leaders who do their best to manage the ministries they’re leading on a Sunday while at the same time, trying to keep an eye out for who may or may not be around.
So, we all know the issue:
How do we know if someone hasn’t been around lately?
The answer to that question is going to have to fit the culture you live in and the culture of your church. For some, formal church membership is helpful in this process. For others who may not have formal membership, those are structures you aren’t able to work within. For some, you ask everyone to fill out a welcome card each Sunday. For others, you only ask that of guests or when there is a change of information.
So, here are a few things that we’ve done that you could think through, refine or adapt in order to get started.
Disclaimer: Some of what you are able to do will depend on the church database you use and its capabilities (or limitations). Outside of your church’s database, there are also multiple apps, software and websites. Simply googling, “tracking ministry attendance” is a good place to start if you’re interested in going down that avenue.
Each week, kids and their families are greeted at our Kids! Desk, where a volunteer team checks them in electronically, via our church’s system-wide database. Each family receives three stickers per child—one goes on the child, the other two serve as Drop-Off and Pick-Up Tickets. In addition, teachers track attendance in the classroom, ensuring that any students who may have been missing for more than a few weeks can be followed up with, either via an e-mail to the parent or a postcard to the child. Children who are new guests receive a postcard that week from their teacher.
In Youth, we’ve tried a few different ways over the years, but right now students stop by their grade’s table in our welcome area to check in with their small group leader (who has a checklist of everyone in their group). We like the strategy behind students getting face-to-face with their small group leader as soon as they arrive. On Monday, that info gets entered into our church database. Later in the week, we email an attendance report from the previous six weeks to each group’s leader who we ask to follow up accordingly, depending on how many weeks they’ve been gone.
So, those are a couple of ways you could do this in next generation ministries where you have the convenience of doing some sort of check-in. Now, let’s talk about some ideas on how to do this with adults.
Rely on smaller communities. The best way to care for people is within existing community. No one knows better that a certain ninth-grade boy has been missing than his small group leader. This same principle can be carried over to adults. Empower your small group leaders (or Sunday school teachers or whatever that system looks like for you) to take the lead in following up with folks in their circles who might be missing. Then, periodically, follow up with those leaders looking for insight while offering help and encouragement.
Work together. It’s not unusual throughout the year for our staff to sit down to create a Missing In Action (MIA) list. Each ministry area will put together a list of kids, youth or adults who seem to be gone or out of the rhythm of attending. These times are insightful as we often learn information that we otherwise hadn’t known.
- “They actually moved.”
- “They are now attending _____, I had a conversation with them and they needed a church closer to home.”
- “Their son plays travel baseball, so they’re always at games on Sunday, but this is still their church home.”
- “I saw them just a couple of weeks ago, actually.”
After going through the list, we often delegate candidates who we deem in need of a follow-up, pending on who the best contact person might be. If you are a part of a smaller church that doesn’t have a large staff, it might be a good idea to allow some key volunteer leaders to be a part of this process.
As a church, you need to find what fits your culture.
Finally, start somewhere. When in doubt, make the call. Trust me, I can relate to all of the fears of every terrible circumstance that could happen when we call someone we don’t think has been around. However, the vast majority of people will appreciate a phone call from someone who has thought of them regardless of the circumstances surrounding their church attendance.
Andy Stanley says, “Do for one what you wish you could do for all.” It may not be a perfect system yet, but doing something is better than doing nothing, right?
Brett Talley is the NextGen Pastor at Church at the Crossing in Indianapolis, Indiana. He’s been married to his smoking hot wife since 2004. They have three amazing and hilarious kids who constantly keep them busy and laughing. He loves baseball, golf, and makes amazing turkey melt sandwiches (if he has the time and ingredients, otherwise they’re just average). Connect with Brett on Twitter and Instagram for pictures of the cutest kids in the world.