Shepherding the Lost: Reaching Out to Inactive Church Members

Last Updated March 27, 2024

Reaching out to inactive church members needs a look into people’s minds and figuring out why someone finds it hard to attend church. 

Look, we must understand. Waking up early on a Sunday morning and getting the whole family dressed and out of the door in time for the church can be a monumental task. Especially when it is their one day off from work, and the alternative is comfortably snuggling in bed.

But, there are still reasons why one must attend church, and these are the reasons you must convey to your church members. From the point of view of churches, attendance statistics are alarming. The Pew Research Center reports that, on average, only 3 million of 7.6 million church members in the U.S. attend worship each week. 

This effectively means that, on average, half of the church members are skipping church weekly. Moreover, one study found that 82 percent of people who drop out of church do so in the first year of their membership, particularly in months 6 and 12. Retaining them in your church can be a tedious task. But it must be done.

Reaching out to members is vital because:

  1. It helps you in your mission to get people involved in the faith.
  2. Church attendance is an essential factor in ensuring the church is running smoothly. Declining numbers are leading to the closure of 4500 churches across America annually.

Re-engaging them in church activities is a great way to get your church buzzing with people again. However, that may not happen if you do not pick up the phone and send them a text or make a call. 

This outreach then requires you to consider your next steps carefully. Your plan of action needs to be divided into two:

  1. Understanding why church members are not attending.
  2. Finalizing strategies for an effective outreach program.

This article helps you do just that.

Why do church members become inactive?

Attending church comes with many benefits. According to many scientific studies, attending church significantly improves the mental health and overall well-being of an individual. 

The benefits make it hard to determine why church-goers might want to step away from the church. However, here are some reasons that your members may not be motivated to attend:

1. They do not feel welcome

Ever walked into a party full of strangers and tried to work your way through the complex social circles? I have, and it is not fun.

Joining a church newly and trying to mingle with people who might have been living in those communities for years might be scaring away members. Church building involves making them feel welcome.

2. They feel like they do not belong

A healthy church is made up of members from different generations and accommodates the needs of various demographics. However, if your church only sees a particular demographic in attendance, members from other demographics might not feel like they belong.

For example, if your church does not have too many younger families attending it, then members who have just started their families might not exactly feel like they are amongst peers. This can also be true for bachelor’s v/s families, racial differences, income brackets, occupational differences, etc. 

3. They want to be part of an active church

Members want to feel like they are a part of a community, and nothing brings people together like events. Fun events such as a fair, easter egg hunt, or a play – are all opportunities to engage church members.

If your church does not conduct such activities or rarely does it, members might feel disconnected.

4. They are dealing with a life situation

Often we may not realize what our church members are going through. Maybe an inactive church member is going through a difficult period of losing a loved one,  job, or health issue. 

Happy occasions such as the birth of a child are also life-altering situations that might have led to a drop in attendance. 

Whatever might be the reason, the church must chalk up an outreach strategy to re-engage inactive members. Regaining churned members might look like a big task, but our list below will help you navigate it.

Read Also: How Do You Invite People to Church with Texting? (With Tips, Best Practices, and Samples)

How can you engage inactive church members?

Reaching out to inactive church members is part of a long-term church communication strategy. A well-thought-out outreach plan will help you:

  1. Re-engage inactive members
  2. Improve church activities
  3. Implement feedback received during the process to become better.

Here are some ways in which it will be easy:

Update member records

Nothing says prepared like a clean, neat list of contacts. 

Often, it is observed that churches have an unclear idea of inactive members and those who are no longer part of the church community. Some may have passed on, while some members might have moved away for good.

The first step in reaching out to inactive members is to update your current records. Once you know of members who can’t or won’t return, you can safely scratch them off your contact list. For those remaining inactive, establish contact via phone calls— a personal but non-intrusive way of reconnecting.

You can refer to our article ‘Marie Kondo-ing Your Contact List: How to Clean an Existing Contact List’ to know how you can easily clean and update your records on CallHub. These tips are especially useful if you are a big or mega-church with an exhaustive contact list.

Put together an outreach team

An outreach team can consist of some of your most faithful and regular members who are excited to volunteer. There are many areas that an outreach team can cover. Some of them include:

  • Reaching out via call.
  • Identifying challenges that some members are facing concerning church attendance.
  • Making new members feel welcome.
  • Helping new members integrate with the church community.
  • Reaching out to members on birthdays and other such significant events.

An excellent outreach team would make your communication strategy even more successful.

Approach from a place of empathy

When it is time to reach out to inactive church members, remember that empathy is the value you need to put forth the most.

Like we discussed in the previous section, members might be going through certain situations that may be preventing them from attending church. While reaching out to them, work from a place of empathy.

Understand why someone cannot attend, offer to help in the best way you can, and do something thoughtful to pitch in. 

A good thing to keep in mind is to not guilt people into coming back. Since guilt is a negative emotion, it is those emotions that they will come to associate with the church – and we don’t want that!

Use technology to your advantage

This one is tricky, but there are so many ways to leverage technology to reach out to inactive members. You will most certainly find one or more ways to implement technology that is easy to use.

You can use:

  • Emails: Reach out to all your members monthly through newsletters or send personalized emails to inactive members and start a conversation.
  • Calls: With the help of calling software, you can quickly sort out your contacts into different lists based on different criteria such as marital status, age, location, etc. Easily label and reach out to inactive members. A personal connection through a call will make members feel important and included.
  • Text messages: Touch base with members who haven’t attended church for a long time via text. Occasional reminders are a great way to get their attention since they are not intrusive but also because 97% of text messages are read within 15 minutes of delivery.
  • Social media: An excellent way to reach out to members is through social media. Post regular updates about church events so members can see the liveliness of the church. You can also send them direct messages (DMs) to connect and socialize.

Read Also: Which Church Database Software Is Best For You?

Focus your messaging on value

While reaching out to an inactive members, it becomes easy to start thinking about what their attendance would mean to the church. Worse still, it could reflect in your messaging and make members feel like just another person filling a seat for the benefit of the church.

Instead, focus on what an inactive member would get once they start attending church regularly. Does it improve their well-being? Will they be better connected to the community? Would their kids find great companions to play with?

Find what value the church adds to the lives of those who are a part of it and promote that message.

Offer different ways to get involved

When you are reaching out to inactive church members, you will understand that some of them want to attend the church but are not in a position to be able to.

In such cases, you can offer alternative ways to be a part of the church without attending. Here are some ideas that you can implement:

  • Text online Sunday service links to them so that they can virtually attend.
  • Set up a daily spiritual message blast that people can sign up to. 
  • Share event invites for events they can attend whenever possible.
  • Have personal one-to-one conversations with members on a scheduled day each week so they can stay connected.

Read Also: Church texting services – using sms for your congregation 

If inactive members are comfortable re-engaging with the church in any measure, you should take it as a good sign and take advantage of it.

Personalize outreach

Personalizing communication is an industry best practice when it comes to businesses. They personalize communication because it immediately grabs the receiver’s attention, fosters loyalty, and increases engagement.

You can use these same reasons but at the church level. Personalizing communication includes knowing and including a recipient’s name, gender, location, age, or other relevant factors to customize your message for each contact.

Personalizing messages helps members feel seen and their absence missed. Using a communication tool such as CallHub, you can easily use tag features to personalize conversations.  Think of your last conversation with a contact and use tags that help you quickly identify their challenges. You can use tags such as ‘life event,’ ‘uninterested,’ ‘moved away,’ ‘expected more,’ etc. These tags will help you segment lists in the future so that you can focus your messaging only on people it is relevant to.

For example, you can send emails to ‘ambivalent’ contacts speaking about the benefits of attending church. You can send blog links via text to people who have gone through significant life events, talking about how they can still stay connected to the faith even if they cannot attend church.

Read Also: 4 Fundraising Sample Scripts Your Board Can Use for Talking to Donors from Different Stages (Calling Tips Included)

Create a buddy system

Reaching out to inactive church members individually might not be possible all the time. However, you can divide your congregation into ‘buddies’ who look after one another and inform the church if their buddy needs anything.

This is especially important if you are a large church and cannot follow up individually with each church member, even though you want to. However, creating a buddy system within your church and using text messaging as a means of communication can make individual contact possible.

CallHub’s peer-to-peer (P2P) text messaging tool is designed exclusively to have personal conversations at scale. You can identify some members from your congregation who are proactive and social and assign a certain number of church members to them. These members or buddies can then reach out to and stay updated with members via text messages through individual dialogue. Here’s how you can adopt P2P texting on CallHub:

  • Create a P2P campaign and assign your proactive members as agents. 
  • Add inactive members as contacts on their contact lists. The agents will be responsible for reaching out to members during important events, festivities, and general welfare checks whenever it feels right. 
  • You can draft the initial text messages, and agents can use their special people skills to engage inactive members. Write uniform scripts to send out to your church family to ensure that all agents say the same things and communicate exactly what you want them to say.

Conduct a survey for church building

If you have noticed your inactive member count is going up, it is time to pause and reflect on the reasons.

An excellent way to gain this information is directly from the horse’s mouth. Start asking relevant questions to absentee church members. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • Are you facing difficulties with attending church?
  • Is there anything we can do to help?
  • Do you feel welcome to the church?
  • Are you enjoying the activities that the church plans?
  • Have you found people that you like to spend time with through church?

You can frame questions depending on what you wish to unearth by conducting a survey. One easy way to conduct a survey is through text messages. This requires minimal set-up, no design processes, and can reach all mobile owners with or without internet connectivity. 

You can conduct text surveys in two ways: 

  1. Automated surveys: Share a survey link with inactive church members to click on and start taking the survey. You can use link shortening features to brand your survey while cutting down on characters. On CallHub, you can also track the total and unique clicks as well as who clicked on your link. Depending on the result, you can retarget people that haven’t yet clicked.
  2. Manual surveys through P2P texting: Peer-to-peer texting lets your agents send thousands of messages at once and then have personalized conversations with each person who responds. This way, the survey receives fast responses and is conducted in a personalized manner.

If you want to opt for calls, you can also schedule phone surveys and get immediate responses to your questions. 

Setting up a phone survey is easy. Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Upload your list: Upload the list of contacts you want to contact through the survey campaign as a CSV file. 
  1. Create a script: Write down the script that your volunteers can use while reaching out to people during the survey.
  1. Add your survey questions: Add questions for which you are seeking responses so it is easily accessible to the callers.
  1. Record the outcome of the call: Record if the call was answered, unanswered, uninterested, participating, etc., depending on which categories are important to your survey. You can also set dispositions for each outcome. For example, schedule a callback with no_answers.

These few steps will get you ready to conduct your phone survey in no time.

Send a letter

Reaching out to inactive church members can be done traditionally to make them feel special. We all would like to receive letters, especially when they say that we are being missed!

Write a heartfelt letter with genuine curiosity and empathy for the well-being of the recipient. Encourage them to attend church sometime soon and detail what awaits them.


Reaching out to inactive church members and encouraging them to attend may not be a one-time task but an ongoing process. While it is a great initiative, it could also be a tedious process.

Leverage the power of technology to reach out to inactive members in the fastest and easiest way possible. CallHub’s texting and calling tools can help you achieve just that. With CallHub, you can conduct surveys, create buddy systems on text, send mass texts, maintain your contact lists, make hundreds of calls, and more.

Start your free 14-day trial today.

Featured Image Credit: ​​Henry & Co.