For The Someday Book

Too Excited about the Church

Posted on: August 17, 2010

It happened again. Someone joined the church who was too excited. They came to worship for the first time and swooned all over—singing the praises of the church, the people, the preaching, the food, the fellowship, the programs, the children. Immediately, they asked to join. They came to everything in that first month. They attended every worship service, answered every call for volunteers, showed up enthusiastically to every event. Always, they were filled with love and you could feel the joy they felt at being in church, our church.

When I first started out in ministry, I used to get really excited about these kind of newcomers. I imagined them to be fired-up leaders who would come in and boost the energy of the church. After a few more years of experience, my first reaction to these over-enthusiastic newbies is deep concern and worry. In my experience, these types of visitors-turned-members flame out within a matter of weeks. After jumping in and becoming a fixture at everything in church, I look up one day and discover they are absent. At first, I figure they just had a scheduling conflict, or finally realized that most people do not attend every single church activity. But then they miss another program, another Sunday, another event, and I realize they are gone.

I always call, and they are almost always happy to talk to me. They do not express doubts or anger or frustration about the church, no cataclysmic event that turned them away. They are still as excited and proud as ever to belong, but their commitment has fizzled out as fast as it caught fire.

I am troubled by these travelers, because I don’t know why they come, why they disappear, or what we could do differently to shepherd them into a deeper, more committed relationship to Christ and the church. Perhaps they think they have found perfection in the church, only to discover we are human, imperfect institution like everyone else. I attempt to warn them, but it doesn’t seem to work. Perhaps they get burned out from getting involved in so many things so fast. I try to warn them about this too, but it’s like talking to a teenager you can’t convince you know anything valuable. Perhaps they just had a temporary gap in their lives, and the church filled it for a month or two. When the need ends, so does their connection to the church. I take consolation that we were there when they needed us, and perhaps they will return when they need us again.  Perhaps they are desperate for connection and community, and we did not welcome them deeply enough, quickly enough to satisfy. I work to help them make friends and social connections with other members, but these things can’t be forced or rushed. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps—the experience remains a mystery to me.

Does anyone else have experience with these kind of short-term enthusiasts? Do you have additional theories or strategies? Have you found successful ways to pastor/shepherd them through the transition from smitten lovers to committed partners?

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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