Yesterday my wife received an alumni newsletter from her college. Because I graduated from the University of Toronto, which is a federation of colleges, I get three of these things regularly, one from the university itself, one from my college, and one from the Department of Philosophy even though I majored in Sociology.
I flip through these, and don’t entirely regard them as junk mail, though I’ve never yet made a donation and frankly, with Christian charities a priority, I’m not ever likely to.
Still, I wondered — minus the glossy magazine part — what it would be like if local churches had some of the mentality of alumni associations, especially toward people who have either moved on or dropped out:
- They’re really good at maintaining a data base of former students and knowing what each is doing. In church life we tend to assume that people have simply gone on to another church when that’s not always the case. They have an interest in where life has taken you, and they track you down, even if you move several times and think you’ve lost them! I’m going to guess here that 99% of churches have nothing formal in place to ‘follow’ former adherents and members, and truth be told, a significant number of them did not go on to another church.
- They’re really excited about sharing their programs. It never occurs to us that if someone liked what we were doing as a church once, they might be interested in connecting again. We basically treat departures as a form of rejection, unless the person moved or was transferred.
- The door is always open. We have nothing in the church that compares to the concept of ‘homecoming.’ Just think what might be if we created a culture where the welcome mat is always out for former members and participants. Colleges and universities invite you walk the corridors and sit in the classrooms to rekindle memories; why can’t a church do that?
- They earnestly solicit your financial help to advance their work. Even though I don’t expect to benefit directly from what my alma mater is doing currently, they invite me invest in its future. Many people who have stopped going to church have stopped giving to Christian causes even though the latest books tell us they still like Jesus, they still love God. There must a polite way to say, if you’re not giving to anything, the work of the church still goes on.
- They share their stories. Related to the above item, they have a better system for hearing back from their ‘graduates,’ and what is being accomplished in and through their lives. In a world of email and Facebook, keeping in touch with former church adherents ought to be a cakewalk. Some are possibly very grateful to share how their time at your church impacted their lives. Everyone else needs to hear those stories.
What do you think? Are there analogies I missed? Can we do better at tracking people who were once part of our church family roll?