When is a church member not a church member? Each week, as we make our way through the parish list, bringing forward names of parishioners for our Sunday prayers, we cannot help but notice that not all the names are familiar to us. Some once had an active connection here but now have drifted away. Some were placed on the list when they had a child baptized, or a wedding performed, but they never really “took root” as members. But some who are inactive now still regard themselves as members, and fiercely so, as having connections here that stretch back for generations.
Several decades ago Reginald Bibby, a Professor of Sociology from the University of Lethbridge, did extensive research on Canadian Christians and their church-going habits. His findings were startling. To the evangelical churches, so proud of their church growth, he said that much of that growth was due to church-hopping, not church-finding, that is, to restless Christians moving about to whichever church had the best band, or the best preacher, or perhaps the best coffee.
For mainstream Christians like us, he said our membership was actually much larger than the numbers indicated. He discovered that many non-church-attenders retained a strong brand loyalty and would be surprised—even piqued—to learn they were not considered members. Bibby’s message to us: evangelism begins with the many people who already count themselves as members.
So look around. Who are the people who are not with us? How might we bring them home?