By Roger Palms
Bill was adamant: “I’m sick and tired of church politics. Never again will I join a church.”
He vowed not to participate except to attend worship services—as long as those services met his needs. If they didn’t, he’d go elsewhere or nowhere at all.
Bill became a “tourist,” as so many church attendees are. He might go to church, but he won’t join or engage in fellowship with others. Separation feels safe. “If I stay at a distance, I won’t get hurt.”
Perhaps you’ve met church tourists or know some who drift in and out of your church. They won’t volunteer to teach children because they’re “just visiting.” And they won’t serve on a board or committee because that’s where problems might arise.
When a church member has an illness, a financial problem, or difficulty with a teenage child, the church tourists have nothing to offer. They’ve cut themselves off. And when the church tourists themselves are struggling and need prayer, no one will know about their needs.
Church tourists can’t support the church’s ministry or mission because they aren’t willing to commit or engage. And, ultimately, it is to their detriment.
We know from Scripture if the branch doesn’t stay closely attached to the vine, it will wither and die. The branch can’t grow, heal, or bear fruit without the nurturing of the vine.
What can a church leader do?
The Importance of the Whole Body
Once I had poison ivy on my face. My face swelled up and my mouth was contorted. Still, it never occurred to me to cut off my nose so the poison ivy wouldn’t get into it. Instead, a doctor treated the problem with a cortisone shot.
Why did the doctor do that? She did it because the problem wasn’t just with my face. The problem was inside, and I had to treat it from the inside out. Although the problem showed up on my face, my whole body was involved.
It’s the same with a church difficulty. Church people need to learn that cutting off a nose isn’t an option; working with the whole body is critical to healing.
“So the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’” the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:21-22. “Or again, the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ But even more, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are necessary.”
It would be easier to let the church tourist drift away. But wouldn’t it be better to help bring healing to the body as a whole? As church leaders, we have our work cut out for us.
Bring Them Back
One of the most important things a church can do is have qualified men and women available to listen and speak to the disengaged. Often church tourists have experienced hurt caused by someone else in the church. Or perhaps they got caught in the middle of a church conflict.
Church leaders and members can begin the steps toward healing by listening to the pain these people feel from earlier church problems. Hear their struggle. Let them know they aren’t alone.
People who have become tourists know deep down inside they’re missing the togetherness of a church relationship they once knew. They don’t need a lecture—they need friendship.
In addition to listening, pray for each church tourist. One of the richest experiences anyone can have is to hear his or her name and God’s name put into the same sentence in prayer. Reiterate in prayer the conversation, honestly saying to God what that person has said about his or her pain. Then ask for God’s healing.
God can use the love of church members to draw lonely and hurting church tourists back into the family of fellow believers. It’s a rescuing that needs to be done. There are so many who are cut off and alone. They need what the church has—they need what the church is.
Suggestions for encouraging church membership
- Speak on the subject of the vine and the branches (John 15:1–17) and the meaning of the body (1 Corinthians 12:12–31).
- Give examples of the church body at work in the lives of members.
- Invite a church member to give a brief testimony about why he or she has chosen to be part of the local church.
- Let prayer needs be known so those who are church tourists can see there is a family here that cares for one another.
- Have someone share about a crisis that came to him or her and what it meant when the church surrounded the person with supporting love and prayer.
ROGER PALMS, former pastor and editor of Decision magazine, is the author of 16 books and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles. He lives in Fort Myers, Florida.