Reclaiming Former & Inactive Church Members

“Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world…” 2 Timothy 4:10.

How tragic! Paul’s close friend and fellow worker (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24) abandoned Paul at the time Paul needed him most. Not only that. Demas abandoned the message and mission of Jesus.

Sometimes we’ll lose people to the church family permanently, no matter how hard we try to keep or reclaim them. Jesus lost Judas (Matthew 10:4, etc). The apostle John said some never really were part of the church family (1 John 2:19). Some must receive healthy Biblical church discipline with the hope they will repent and return.

But the best Biblical models for reclaiming are probably found in Luke 15.

  1. The Lost Sheep (v1-7). The sheep wandered away. It was lost. It was scared. It didn’t know what to do. It would have died if the Shepherd had not gone looking for it. Some people wander away from Jesus and/or the church family. They don’t know what to do to find their way back. The church family must go looking for them, help them, love them, and carry them back home. It is never enough to say “They know where we are. They can come back whenever they want.”
  2. The Lost Coin (v8-10). The coin was lost in the house. It didn’t know it was lost. The only way it could be found was for the lamp (Bible – Psalm 119:105) to be lit and the broom (Holy Spirit – John 16:7-11) to do some sweeping. There are people who attend church services regularly – maybe they are members or even leaders – who are lost and won’t know it until the Bible is clearly taught and the Holy Spirit is allowed to transform lives. This is why people are not to be removed from Seventh-day Adventist church membership records based on non-attendance, because sometimes those who don’t attend are more connected to the Lord than those who do (e.g. the Church in the Wilderness which was persecuted by the Organized Church in the Dark Ages – Revelation 12:6, 13-17).
  3. The Lost Son(s) (v11-32). The younger son hated being in the house so he left, went to a far country, wasted his life and resources. He was lost. He knew the way home. But he didn’t think he would be welcomed if he came home. He was right, and wrong. His father ran to welcome him. His older brother, the other son, did not welcome him. There are people who have misunderstood or hated the rules of God and have left the church and messed up their lives. They know where the church building is and when the services are. But they aren’t sure if they will be welcomed if they come back. Those who have experienced the love of the Father God will welcome them. Those who haven’t, won’t welcome them back.

As a pastor and church leader here are the things I have tried in reclaiming people who are lost sheep, lost coins or lost sons (both types).

  1. Strengthen the Church Family by putting in place healthy systems for…
    1. Preaching. Since we like a variety of speakers, often developing teams of new and young preachers, we make sure each speaker has healthy attitudes when they stand up to preach, that the messages are Christ-centered, Bible-based, practical and have a call to action, and are simple but powerful.
    2. Mentoring Relationships. The church leaders need to be developed as mentors for group leaders, starting in huddles at Church Board Meetings. As new groups are added, the group leaders are mentored and they mentor those in their groups.
    3. Entry/Re-entry into the Church Family. If we bring people into the church family in a healthy way, clearly identifying what it means to be a Seventh-day Adventist in the last days, mentoring them after membership, they are far more likely to stay and to become involved in the mission Jesus gave us.
  2. Distribute Spiritual Growth Packets. Here’s what worked for us and why.
    1. Why give packets?
      1. Help member families strengthen their relationship with the Lord.
      2. Connect with all member families whether attending or not. It is an opportunity to contact inactive members in a friendly, encouraging way, listening to their stories and pointing them to Jesus while inviting them to reconnect with other believers.
      3. Help connect with guests.
      4. The packets are especially helpful when the resources are coordinated with the preaching theme(s).
    2. Who give packets to?
      1. Every family on the church membership list.
      2. Guests.
    3. How often and how to give out packets?
      1. At least once a year but preferably quarterly.
      2. For 2 weeks – Packets in lobby for people to pick up their own and to take to distribute (usually organized alphabetically).
      3. The Following 2 weeks – Organize packets by geography and ask Sabbath School class members to distribute. Mail to out-of-towners.
      4. Have extra packets for guests. Ask them to fill out info card and exchange it for a spiritual growth packet.
      5. Have extra missionary books in stacks of 5 for people to use to start a group.
    4. What to include in the packet?
      1. Missionary book on same theme as sermons that quarter.
      2. Letter from pastor/elder including positive updates.
      3. Bible Reading Bookmarks (see
      4. Response Card (to help out-of-towners and inactives connect).
      5. Item from church school.
      6. Stewardship Commitment Card and Tithe & Offering envelope.
  3. Add groups, especially ministry, mission and Sabbath School groups. Each group becomes a landing place for new and reclaimed members.

Gayle had grown up in an Adventist home and when she graduated from Adventist academy she also graduated from the church. For 26 years she chased her dreams and watched her relationships crumble as her addictions destroyed her life. She moved to another state and enrolled her children in the Adventist church school. It was five years before she had the courage set foot inside the church building next door. On the Sabbath she stopped by, she found a warm welcome and friendly people. Within six months she was baptized along with her husband who was happy to see the change in her. She discovered that a Sabbath School group was just starting a ministry to the homeless in a park, many of whom had struggles with addictions. She knew she could help because she had been through some of the same struggles they were going through. As the ministry became consistent, inactive members started showing up at the park to help. Some said “This is what the church is supposed to be doing. Count us in.” Some of the homeless were baptized, including Wally, the worst alcoholic in the area, and became powerful witnesses throughout the city.

Today Gayle is serving on the staff of one of our conferences, after having served with her husband as a volunteer Bible worker, volunteer evangelist, Bible Worker trainer, Church Planter and prayer coordinator.

There are thousands of other Gayles, wanting to come home, hoping for a warm welcome. There are thousands of Wallys, lost and waiting for someone to lead them home. And there are thousands of people “in church,” waiting to really hear the Adventist message clearly and to become involved in the mission.

What is your first step in reclaiming them?

Blessings to you,

Dan Serns


Inspired Insights on Reclaiming

When the mind dwells upon self, it is turned away from Christ, the source of strength and life. Hence it is Satan’s constant effort to keep the attention diverted from the Saviour and thus prevent the union and communion of the soul with Christ. The pleasures of the world, life’s cares and perplexities and sorrows, the faults of others, or your own faults and imperfections—to any or all of these he will seek to divert the mind. Do not be misled by his devices.   {Steps to Christ p. 71}

“Without unceasing prayer, without diligent watching, we are in danger of growing careless, and of deviating from the right path. Our backsliding may be so gradual that we may fancy ourselves in a good spiritual condition when we are surely on the enemy’s ground. The adversary seeks continually to obstruct the way to the mercy-seat, that we may not by earnest supplication and faith obtain supplies of grace and power to resist temptation.”     {Signs of the Times December 23, 1889, par. 5}

“It would be vastly better for their children, for themselves, and for the cause of God, if they would remain in the smaller churches, where their help is needed, instead of going to the larger churches, where, because they are not needed, there is a constant temptation to fall into spiritual inactivity.”     {Child Guidance p. 307.1}

“Those who profess to believe the truth, but feel no burden for the souls of others, will be continually backsliding, and it will require time and strength on the part of the minister to keep them from making shipwreck of faith, when they should be laboring with all their might to present the way of life and salvation to their friends and neighbors. Hundreds of men and women who at the present time are professedly engaged in the work of God, are not doing one-tenth that they might do if they would only improve all the powers God has given them. Some are doing literally nothing for the truth, and by their example of indifference are bringing others into the same position of uselessness, and thus are scattering from Christ. This latter class includes by far the greater number. They are thinking and planning only for themselves. Fathers and mothers with their little ones around them make their little circle their world. Every power of their being is centered on “me and mine,” and they are becoming narrower and more circumscribed every year of their lives. They do not open their hearts to the grace and love of Christ, and liberalize their nature and ennoble their being by placing themselves in sympathy with their fellow-men.—The Review and Herald, June 10, 1880.” {Pastoral Ministry p. 146.3}

“When one who has wandered far in sin seeks to return to God, he will encounter criticism and distrust. There are those who will doubt whether his repentance is genuine, or will whisper, “He has no stability; I do not believe that he will hold out.” These persons are doing not the work of God but the work of Satan, who is the accuser of the brethren. Through their criticisms the wicked one hopes to discourage that soul, and to drive him still farther from hope and from God. Let the repenting sinner contemplate the rejoicing in heaven over the return of the one that was lost. Let him rest in the love of God and in no case be disheartened by the scorn and suspicion of the Pharisees.” {Christ’s Object Lessons p. 190.2}

About danserns

Happily married and father of three great kids. Seventh-day Adventist pastor who invites everyone to accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord, embrace all the teachings of the Bible and join a vibrant Adventist group.
This entry was posted in Adventist Education, Bible Study, Changed Lives, Church School, Family, Outreach, Pastoring, Preaching, Small Groups, Why Not Try This...? and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Reclaiming Former & Inactive Church Members

  1. Bill Pritchard says:

    Thank you Pastor Dan for your encouraging words. Just know that you and your family are missed in SW Washington. Christ’s message is all about people, we must never forget He cares for everyone. Prayers and blessings for your family.

    • danserns says:

      Hi Bill, great to hear from you. We have fond memories of our time in the northwest. May the Lord help each of us live boldly and kindly for Jesus in these last days, always inviting people to accept Jesus as a their Savior and Lord, embrace all Bible truth and unite with His final worldwide movement. Blessings to you, your family and all the believers there.

  2. Greg Schaller says:

    Very insightful wisdom focused on the 3 conditions of lostness. Thank you. Courage at every step forward!

  3. Mark Cockerham says:

    Thanks Dan. So many good and helpful ideas to try. God bless your ministry

  4. Vialo Weis says:

    Good stuff, Dan! I will be saving this.

    Do you have Fordyce Detamore’s book on reclaiming inactive members?

    May you and yours have a wonderful Christmas season in the Lord!

    Yours in His service,

  5. N. Sailo says:

    Beautiful, and thought provoking and I wish we practice it. Just visiting and showing we care go a long way. Hope all church leaders read.

  6. Pingback: Pastoral Visitation Made Easier | Dan Serns

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s