Lesley was a regular in worship and in my youth group 25 years ago. Her parents were active. When I was with her recently I asked if she was in church and she said “no.”
I’m sure she read my disappointment and added that when she was a young adult, she’d tried the church where she’d been raised, but there were no people her age. (Her parents had moved.)
She tried a bigger church but had felt lost, and it was hard to go alone. Her jobs involved working on Sundays. So after a while, she’d just given up. She’d go on holidays with her family.
Lesley married a man whose experience with church was that of going as obligation, so he had no interest. I didn’t probe, but it didn’t seem to bother her.
It made me wonder if we in the church had failed her. Did I not stress the importance of community when it comes to being a follower of Jesus? That it is hard to be faithful alone; that we need others to encourage and even challenge us?
Did she not hear that she is an indispensable part of the body of Christ; that we need her as we carry on the mission of Christ?
Lesley hasn’t been involved in church for so long that she doesn’t know what she is missing. I was sad for her and for the church, because she needs the church. And the church needs her and others like her.
Unfortunately, her story is common, and many who read this article will nod as they think about their own children and grandchildren who have dropped out of church.
Her story speaks to the importance of inviting people of all ages to church and to welcoming the visitors who come, especially those by themselves and those who are young. (Of course “young” is relative!) It takes a great deal of courage for them to walk in our doors.
Lesley’s story reminds me that we all need a few people around us who will support us on our faith journey. Beyond worship we must be intentional to forge such relationships, perhaps starting with inviting others to join us for lunch or coffee.
We also need to find a place to serve and a place to grow. I’m a big believer in small groups. As folks gather regularly to consider how God’s Word relates to their daily lives, their faith grows. Over time as trust deepens, they also share their lives – the joys and concerns – and receive support.
I wish Lesley had persevered to find a church home and been intentional to find others to encourage her on the path of discipleship.
My prayer even now is that the Spirit will move in her or in others, to draw her back into the church. She needs us, and we need her and others like her.
Rev. Christine Herrin is the pastor at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church in Bluffton.