Holding Our Members

Helpful suggestions for retaining church members.

RALPH S. LARSON, Pastor, Hawaiian Mission

[The author of this article is a pastor of one of our large churches. We know that our readers will appreciate his very helpful suggestions. In writing us he said, "Somewhere, doubtless, there is a church that I will pastor when I am through here. I wish, oh, how I wish that the man who is there now would catch a vision and set up this system before I get there. It would save me literally months of ill-directed effort, working, as it were, in the dark. It would eliminate that perilous period after the changing of pastors when weak members slip away and are lost, because the new pastor doesn't know who they are. It would make it possible to win more souls faster."

And that is the objective of all true ministry. Anything that will aid the pastor to care for the flock and yet permit him to spend more time with those outside the fold is really worthwhile. However, this would require an efficient assistant, a church secretary of some kind, to keep records up to date. But the possibilities are wonderful.—Editors]

Of all the methods I have tried in seeking pastoral efficiency among the six hundred members of Honolulu Central church, none has been so satisfying and rewarding as the church attendance record combined with a visi­ble index file system.

At the suggestion of our treasurer, Brother John Smith, a used visible index file, size 6 by 11 inches, was purchased from war surplus. On a card in the visible portion of this file each member's name appears opposite a row of fifty-two small squares, one for each Sabbath of the year. A grease pencil mark on the surface of the card holder, over each square, makes a cumulative attendance record for one year. At the end of the year the grease marks can be wiped off for a new start.

Each Sabbath morning, at an agreed time dur­ing the service, the deacons unobtrusively start through each section of seats a neat chipboard and paper with pencil attached, bearing the following suggestion:

To help us help you—Please record your at­tendance at the worship service this morning by placing your name in a space below. Thank you.

The board is hardly noticeable as it moves back through the room, and members and visit­ors alike sign it without hesitation.

On Monday morning the associate pastor and I, with our wives, spend about one hour transferring this information to the record on the visible index file. No visitors escape our at­tention. If not known to us, they can usually be identified by contacting the member who is revealed by the list as having sat next to them. We make many helpful contacts that lead to Bible studies by paying them a prompt return visit. We also are able to quickly and easily identify the unbaptized youth of the church.

We set up this system at the beginning of 1955, and just let the records accumulate for a while. After two months they told a remark­ably clear and revealing story.

Conspicuous on the list were the names op­posite which there were no marks at all—the "total absentee" group. By knowing so accu­rately who they were and directing some effort toward them, we have been able to reclaim quite a number, although it was soon learned that some had been missing for years. This emphasized the danger of relying on the fullness of the building as an evidence that all the members are attending. Sometimes the build­ing may be filled with persons other than local members.

Also clearly evident on the list were the "fal­tering" group—those attending quite irregu­larly. We gave them our attention also, and mailed them a "missed you" card faithfully every time they failed to appear. This has brought very gratifying results. Whereas at the beginning of the year we sent out an average of forty cards a week to absentees other than the "total absentee" group, the number is now down to an average of ten per week, and these not to the same individuals. This is probably an irreducible minimum. That many will visit other churches or be unavoidably indisposed each week.

This simple system has definitely proved a help in retaining the interest of our members and thus preventing loss by apostasy. Instead of the "total absentee" group growing, we are slowly but surely reducing it, and the move­ment in that direction has been very nearly checked. Somewhat to our surprise, we found that the members are pleased when the pastor takes notice if they miss even a single at­tendance at church. Some telephone to explain their absence.

The visible index file is worth its cost for this purpose alone, but it affords many other ways of simplifying our work. Colored tabs on the visible portion reveal to us, by their presence or absence in certain positions, whether the mem­ber is faithful in the matter of tithe, his pledges for church expense, his commitments for Signs of the Times, has his children in our church school, subscribes to the Review and Herald, is an Ingathering solicitor or donor, is Ha­waiian, Chinese, Japanese, et cetera, and whether he is at present on this island or somewhere else.

Before going to visit a member, we are able to check his relation to all of these vital ques­tions at a single glance by reading the visible portion of his card horizontally. Then at cam­paign time we glance down the column of colored tabs vertically and know how to ap­proach our work, because we know where our support among the members lies on any given point.

The card itself is planned to be a personality portrait of the member, containing a record of his service in various offices, his special tal­ents, possession of tools and equipment, et cetera. In the reverse side of the card holder, an­other card of the same size provides a complete financial ledger for that member for the year. This is also of immense help to the pastor.

A new pastor may learn as much about his congregation in a few weeks with this system as he could in years without it. And best of all, it eliminates guesswork from his shepherding of the flock.

You will find that new visible index systems are expensive, but say, Brother Pastor, what businessman spends a hundred thousand dol­lars for his' building and then balks at setting up a system for inventory control? Is not our inventory more precious than his?

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RALPH S. LARSON, Pastor, Hawaiian Mission

April 1957

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