“Why didn’t anyone call me?”
I have heard this question more times than I can count in my 14 years as a pastor. I’ve heard this question from people who were part of our church anywhere from 3 weeks to 30 years. I have heard this question from people who show up at our church, as an explanation for why they are looking for a new church home. I have heard this question coming out of my own mouth.
It is a question that often carries a lot of hurt behind it, and the conclusions we come to about the answer can have big consequences. Sometimes our conclusions will lead to us carrying hurt for many years. Sometimes they will lead to us leaving a church community for good.
There may be a number of reasons that nobody called (or texted, or messaged, or sent you a carrier pigeon) when you missed church, some of which might surprise you. Let’s talk about them.
Option One: Nobody Cares About You
This is, of course, a viable possibility. It is possible that the reason no one has contacted you is because nobody actually cares about you. It is possible that you don’t matter much to your church and you aren’t missed at all. It is possible that people DID notice you were gone and didn’t care one twit about it.
My experience is that this is usually the default conclusion people make when they step back from their church and don’t hear from anybody. I can totally see the logic in leaving a church for good if you felt this was the case, and indeed sometimes it is.
But what if that is not actually the reason? What if there are other options, such as…
Option Two: No One REALIZED You Had Been “Away”
Did you know that today “regular” church attendance is considered attending three services out of every eight? This means that even if you break this mode, and attend every single Sunday, most people around you are not. This means that it has become really hard to notice when people are “gone” and not just “not there.”
Let me show you what I mean.
Let’s say there are two people – Nancy and Jared. They both attend somewhat regularly – let’s even say FIVE out of eight weeks – and they usually chat and sit together. Now let’s say that Jared is going through a really hard time and doesn’t go to church for all five of those weeks. And Nancy doesn’t contact him!! Why? Is it because she doesn’t care???
Well, the first two weeks he wasn’t there Nancy was away herself. She was visiting some family. The next two weeks she came and Jared wasn’t there, but she didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t strange at all for Jared to miss a week or two, and, besides, she figures that he was there the weeks that she wasn’t. Then Nancy is away another week – she is sick. She comes back, but again, she assumes Jared was probably there the week she missed. Then two more weeks pass and still no Jared. It is likely only then that she starts to think to herself: “I wonder if everything is okay with Jared.” At this point she pops him a message on Instagram, to which he replies: “I can’t believe you didn’t contact me!! I haven’t been at church for SEVEN weeks, and you JUST noticed? I guess you don’t care.”
See how it happens?
It may not be that people don’t care – it may be that people simply haven’t put the pieces together that you are GONE and not just “away.”
Option Three: The Church has Gotten Bigger
The above story might logically lead you to then say: “Well, at least the pastor should notice. The pastor is there every week.” Fair enough. However, I can speak from experience, that if your church is getting bigger, it gets harder and harder for pastors to keep track of EVERYONE in the church. Our church, for example, has about 350 people that call us home. That is a lot of people to remember and notice when they have been gone (while noticing if it’s just been more than the usual number of weeks that they are away…). I would LOVE to be able to notice everyone who steps back and reach out, but sometimes I simply can’t keep track. Which brings me to my next point…
Option Four: You are Not Connected or Involved
You may be hurt that no one noticed that you are gone, but it may be that you were, honestly, never very connected. If you have not joined a small group, been part of ministry, or served in any way then it IS harder to build relationships with people that would have a chance to notice you are gone besides the pastor. To be noticed, you need relationships with people who would notice you.
Option Five: People Feel Awkward
A few years ago our church tried to address this issue by putting everyone in a group of three – the idea was that if you noticed someone in your group of three was away that you would reach out to them, or at least let a pastor know that they had been away or needed support.
I am sorry to say that this was a TOTAL BUST.
I was stunned when I would hear people say: “My person hasn’t been there for a long time.” “Did you contact them?” I would ask. “Oh no,” many would answer, “I didn’t want it to be awkward.”
I discovered that some people really find this a difficult thing to do. They feel like it will look like they are “checking up” on people. They are shy. They don’t want to make people feel bad. I have been stunned by how many people DO notice people are away and just don’t act on it.
It may be that you are noticed and missed, but people you know simply aren’t the type to call you up about it.
(Also, there are some generational differences here. I have been told by many of our younger church members that being called when they are away makes them feel guilty. They don’t feel loved – they feel like they have let people down. For them, the idea of calling people to see why they haven’t been at church is 100% rude and weird. If you’re away, they may be trying to RESPECT you by not tracking you down).
Option Six: Different Expectations
A number of years ago a woman came to our church who had moved to the area and left a church she had been in for many years. She went through a difficult time, and I heard from her that she was “very hurt” that more people from church hadn’t visited her. At the time, we had a team that did a lot of visiting for elderly people in our church. When our team met, I learned that someone had visited her EVERY week that month! What did she mean that “nobody” visited her?
Later I talked to someone from her old church. That church was very small and deeply connected. When someone was sick, you know how many times someone visited? EVERY DAY.
No wonder she felt let down! We had totally different expectations of what being “connected” meant!
If you are joining a church, it may be wise to discover how they address people being away, pastoral needs, etc. It could be good to know if you can expect a visit from the pastor if you’ve been sick, or how much people who’ve been way have follow up.
You may also want to consider if you have realistic expectations of your church. Are you expecting someone to visit every day? That is very rare. Are you expecting to hear from everyone at your church? That is also unlikely. Maybe your church has felt they cared for you better than it felt to you…
These are just a few options as to why you might not hear from people when you’ve been away from your church. I haven’t even mentioned that people might not know how to contact you (does your church have your contact info?), that they may be trying to give you space, or that they don’t get your status updates in their Facebook feed when you passively aggressively share that you miss your church.
Why did I write this post? Because I grieve the hurt that people feel when they assume their church doesn’t care about them. It is even more sad when that assumption is not true. That’s why today, if you have felt unloved or forgotten by your church, I invite you to consider what you could do to address options 2-6.
Reach out to a friend or a pastor and TELL them you’ve been away and ask to talk. Get more involved so that you form deeper connections. Show up more than 3 out of 8 worship services a month. Let people know how you would like to receive care, and then talk about if it’s reasonable together. Make sure the church has your contact info!
Most of all, don’t give up too quickly. The hurt of feeling forgotten is real, but it may be a hurt based on things that aren’t true. Before you despair, check out all the options. You may be loved more than you realized.