‘If you’re not here, please raise your hand!’

absenteeismWhat’s the single most important question to ask of your small group?

Who’s not here?

I was once accused of keeping a register for church attendance from a Christian man in our church family who clearly thought that was a bad thing. I started to defend myself (it’s my default response). But I caught my inner lawyer mounting my defence and thought ‘why?’ It’s true. I do keep a register. It’s not actual. It’s mental. Mental in that I keep the information in my head not mental as in I’ve lost my head. Just to clarify. And it’s not so much concerned with who’s there but who’s not there.

And I’ve made sure that we ask the same question at our weekly Monday afternoon staff and ministry trainees meeting. We review the previous week’s events. We talk about what happened on Sunday; what went well and where there’s room for improvement. And it’s always exciting to ask ‘who was new?’ But one of the key questions is to ask ‘who wasn’t there?’ I’m not sure anyone should go to a church where the ministry team haven’t got their eyes peeled for who’s away each week.

Of course, the people in our church family are grown ups. They make choices. Each week they make a decision about whether to come to church or not. I can’t make that for them. And they’re responsible for what they do. But we don’t always make great decisions. Sometimes we make bad ones. And, from time to time, we need others to talk some sense to us.

There can be lots of reasons why people aren’t there. They’re unavoidably busy. They’re on holiday. But sometimes it’s an indication that something’s not quite right, or something’s wrong. Perhaps it’s an indication that they don’t feel part of the church family, or the small group. Perhaps it’s an indication that they’ve got their prioties mixed up and small group is only ever fitted around the social programme. Perhaps it’s an indication of the kind of drift that the writer to the Hebrews warns us about (Heb 10:25). We’re not meant to give up the habit of meeting together. And so every week we’re either reinforcing or undermining the formation of a habit. The habit of going to church. Actually we’re reinforcing one of two habits; that of going to church or skipping it.

Christ Church Balham is not a large church. It’s not a small church either. But we’re at that size where even the staff can’t quite keep an eye out for everyone. And even though my mental register is pretty much up to date, people get in under the radar. That is, they sescape detection. And that’s alright if the reasons for being away are good. But what if they’re not? What if people are struggling? What if people are failing? What if people need help, or correction or rebuke. Not being at church or small group week after week can be an indication of that. And so it’s a question I want our small group Bible study leaders to be asking. I think it’s what you do when you love your church family.