When Your Visitors Do Not Return to Your Church
Church plants and revitalization is a unique and difficult ministry. Unlike many ministers who serve in an established ministry context, church planters and revitalizers often encounter situations and problems that is distinctive to their contexts. Problems such as facing financial difficulty with the ministry, being introduced to the underlying tensions inside the church, or handling the impermanent location of worship, many unique problems can easily put burdens and stress on ministers of church planting and revitalizing context.
As I am serving a small congregation that used to enjoy hundreds of attendances during its peak days, I am no stranger to the problems many church planters and revitalizers experience weekly. Nonetheless, if there is one particular challenge that drove me deep into the oblivion of self-doubt and disappointment, it was when people who visited the church did not come back.
I believe every church planter and revitalizer would resonate with me on this point: we desire to see growth in our church. Especially if your church is on the verge of a shutdown due to low attendance, you would desperately desire to see that one visitor come back to the church next Lord’s Day. And as you stand on your pulpit and see many empty chairs in your church, you might begin to question, “Am I really good enough for this ministry? If I was fit for this, why would people not come back? Certainly, it is because I am not better than other ministers around me that they choose others over me.”
My hope in this article is to help my fellow laborers of the Gospel to overcome these lies that Satan whispers in our ears. Certainly, there are many legitimate and also illegitimate reasons why visitors of our ministries may not choose to return next Lord’s Day. However, after wrestling with this problem myself for a time, I want to share with you three reasons why I think the Lord keeps certain people from returning to our churches.
I. To Humble His Ministers
First, I believe that the Lord keeps certain people from returning because he wants to keep ministers humble before Him. As already mentioned in the earlier paragraphs, when visitors do not return, it is easy for some ministers to question his qualification and capability in ministry.
Satan takes these ministers’ low moments and makes them wallow in self-doubt and self-pity. He causes ministers to question the future of their ministries and eventually give up on any hope and courage to continue their ministry.
However, what every minister must recognize is that when the question of their qualification and capabilities fills their mind, they must humble themselves before God and depend on Him utterly for their ministries. After all, the Scripture clearly testifies to us that no ministers are sufficient for the Gospel ministry in our world (2 Cor. 2:14-16). Furthermore, the Scripture also clearly testifies that it is not our gifts or capabilities that build our ministries but the Spirit of God (Zec. 4:6).
Accordingly, when discouragement and doubt overwhelm us when we observe our empty pews, we must run to the Lord and humbly depend on his will. We must pray that the Lord will work out His mighty work of salvation and bring lost souls into His church for His name’s sake.
II. To Remind His Ministers
The second reason I believe the Lord keeps some people from returning to our ministry is in order to remind His ministers that we are only under-shepherds. Every minister must understand that the flock that comes under their care is not “their” flock but “Christ’s” flock. As such, we must understand that every believer who comes under the care of a minister is not a random person deciding to join the church. Rather, every believer comes under the care of a minister because our chief shepherd, Jesus Christ, deemed it good for His particular sheep to be cared for under a particular minister.
Accordingly, if some people decide not to return to our ministry, I believe it is because our Lord has willed us not to send these sheep into our fold. In other words, according to his infinite wisdom and wise counsel, the chief shepherd believed it was better for that particular sheep to go under another under-shepherd who could provide better service and care for his/her particular needs.
When any visitors do not decide to return to our church, we must pray to the Lord that He will lead them to a good shepherd for their needs and well-being. And as Christ’s under-shepherd ourselves, we must continue to pray that the Lord may send His sheep into our fold that we can faithfully and lovingly serve and care for our chief-shepherd.
III. To Keep First Thing First
Lastly, and most importantly, I believe the Lord also keeps some people from returning to our church because he wants to make sure that His ministers will keep first thing first: to love and care for the existing flock. A common temptation and error that many church planters and revitalizers make during their ministry are that they are often consumed with a desire for growth that they mistakenly end up neglecting the existing members of the church.
It is important for all ministers to recognize that we are first and foremost given to the flock which Christ has entrusted to us. Evangelism is important. Church growth is important. Strategizing to draw more people into the church is important. Nonetheless, the most important command which Christ has given to all ministers is to feed His sheep under our care (John 21:21).
As such, I believe every minister ought to question themselves: Are we caring for our flock well? Has our obsession with the growth of the church caused some of our members to be neglected from our care? Are we seeing the visitors of the church as more important and precious in our eyes than the sheep in our fold? The Lord keeps some people from returning to remind us that our first call is to love our own flock.
While I spoke about these matters in relation to church planting and church revitalization, I believe that all ministers can resonate with the disappointment and sadness that comes with any visitors who do not return to churches. A sense of rejection or disqualification can easily pervade the minds of a minister who sees many empty pews on their pulpit.
Nonetheless, I pray that the above three reasons can console you and encourage you to continue your ministry. And Lord’s willing, I pray that your ministry will bear many fruits as you labor for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Seob Kim is an ordained minister of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. He is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Grove City, PA.