Saturday, October 28, 2017

Shut-Ins: The Lost Tribe of Adventists

 When we do surveys asking what religion people are, we find that there are usually a lot more people who say they are Adventist than there are who come to church each Sabbath. Mostly we assume that's because people just don't want to come to church because they're too busy or someone's offended them or (my favorite) "I like to worship out in nature." 

I think there's another reason for the miscount. I think a lot of Adventists don't come to church anymore because they've gotten too old. I know because it's happened to me. Through a series of unfortunate events, my wife and I became isolated from our church and the church forgot we'd ever been there. 

For one reason and another, seniors are much more likely to find themselves without transportation and therefore, without a way to get themselves to church. In East Texas, my old stomping grounds, we did a survey that showed that one in five East Texans didn't have a reliable way to get to town to go to the doctor or get groceries. Many are virtual prisoners in their own homes. The other missing group is children. They don't drive cars. They are totally dependent on older people to drive them around.

These church members are too often forgotten by their own churches. I found that out when my wife and I moved up here to Washington State. We found a nice little church and, though my wife wasn't able to attend regularly, I started to. Unfortunately about a year later, I lost my ride and next thing I knew, we'd disappeared from my church's radar screen. I got a ride about two years later and everyone was surprised to see me. Most thought I'd gone back to Texas.

I've seen what happens when a church goes looking for its lost older members. Pastor extraordinaire, Ron Halvorsen Sr. breezed into my home town of Keene, Texas and began actively looking for lost members. He somehow managed to find something like 9 school buses, find drivers for them and create a maintenance and fuel fund.  We had about 800 coming to church (it's an SDA college town) and about 40 coming to prayer meeting in the youth chapel every week. Pastor Ron went out looking for children and old people and sent buses out into the surrounding counting collecting those who had been missing services.

The board balked at the cost of manning the buses, the liability issues and even the playing of guitars onboard during the rides.  But Pastor Ron, with the enthusiastic support of the congregation ignored the good old boys who thought they ran the church, and before we realized what was happening we had better than 2000 people in two and three daily services and 900 people at PRAYER MEETING! Can you imagine that?

We started youth prayer meetings for the kids, run by the kids and aimed at the kids. Kids came, often accompanied by parents and grandparents. The bus singalongs got more than a little rowdy and it wasn't just the youngsters. If you think Grandma has forgotten how to do "If You're Happy and You Know It" You've got another thing coming. It was a truly joyful noise unto the Lord.

I know, because me and my guitar were on those buses. Every Adventist Church, particularly in North America and Europe needs to go through their membership lists and find out who is missing. Once they find who and where those folk are, they need to go get them. A big yellow school bus is great for that. If some of your seniors have mobility issues, I can show you how to address that with a portable ramp you can run up to the rear exit door.

And you don't have to limit the use of the church bus to shut-in transportation to Sabbath services. If the kids are having a program at your school, go pick up folk and pack the audience with appreciative fans. If you've got a food bank in your church, USE IT!  Every month about social security check time, run around and pick up your non-driving or physically impaired members and take them to Walmart, the mall or to your church food bank. Organize trips to the park or to church recreational activities. If you hear about a free clinic going on in your city, get out the buses and go get people. Jesus said, "Go ye therefore into all the world..." If you can't be globe-hopping, you should at least explore the corner of your world. Besides those big buses running around town on Sabbath with the name of your church on it are a powerful witness, not to mention advertisement, for your local congregation.

It can be good for your church budget too. Seniors control the majority of the wealth in this country, but they don't donate to causes they don't participate in in some way. Make them active participants in the life of your church and you will see more money coming into the church coffers if that's what you're worried about.

Actually, if running a couple of buses to pick up non-attending members will, perhaps, minister to what St. Paul called "the widows and the orphans", then let nothing stand in your way. It's time we "come rejoicing" before the Lord and get to bringing in those lonely and isolated sheaves still standing out in the field with no way to get home. Gleaning the fields for left behind fruit is an ancient tradition with God's people.

© 2017 by Tom King

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