Recently, while attending a major sporting event, I noticed a peculiar sign near the gate as I gave my ticket to the gate attendant. In bold black letters the sign read, “Absolutely No Re-entry.” In other words, if you come out, don’t expect to get back in.
While there is no such rule for the church, some church members often find it difficult to re-enter active participation in the church after an extended absence.
People forsake regular church attendance for any number of legitimate or illegitimate reasons.
Some get their feelings hurt about some action or statement. Some find it difficult to return to church after a divorce. Some have a work schedule that conflicts with the scheduled services of the church. Some don’t like the pastor or staff. Some must miss services to care for relatives who are ill.
Some are in a state of spiritual disillusionment that makes it difficult for them to return to church. Some choose a lifestyle or hobby that lures them away from church. Some recent transplants fail to make a connection with a church in their new locale. And some never intend to withdraw from church, but after they miss a few Sundays, they find it difficult to return.
No matter how comfortable you once felt in your church, an extended absence can cause you to feel anxiety about returning. Some fear being rejected. Others worry about being stigmatized or verbally chastised about missing. Still others wrestle with extreme personal guilt about being away from church.
Whatever the reason for lack of involvement, most churches will welcome one back gladly and graciously, and maybe even inconspicuously. Most individuals who want to re-enter the church would rather re-enter quietly with a simple and gracious welcome, than encounter intrusive questions about their absence. A simple “good to see you,” is more welcoming than a prickly “where have you been?”
If you have been out of church for a while, how can you re-enter graciously? You may opt to simply begin attending again. No questions. No explanations. Just make a firm decision that it is time for you and your family to start back to church and then do it.
If you live alone or if you feel anxious about your return, you may choose to make contact with a trusted friend who attends your church. Perhaps you could say something like, “I plan to attend services this Sunday. May I sit with you?”
Some individuals may prefer to contact their minister before returning. This enables the minister to affirm their decision and allows the minister the privilege of quietly welcoming the family or individual back into the active life of the congregation.
Life is too short and worship is too important to be disconnected or estranged from your congregation. If you have responsibilities which prohibit your active church attendance for now, contact your minister and find other ways to stay connected to your congregation. Is there any better time than now to return?
Barry Howard is pastor of First Baptist Church in Corbin, Ky.
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches. He and his wife, Amanda, live in Brookhaven, Georgia.