Ultimately the goal of all ministering efforts is to help others draw closer to Jesus Christ. We do this by doing what they need. And obviously, this is going to be different for each individual and family. But there will always be that universal need to feel loved and accepted.
So, how do we effectively minister to members who do not actively attend? For the most part, we do it the same way we minister to anyone else. We show them that we love them.
But I'd like to go through a brief list of Do's & Don'ts for ministering to those who have wandered:
1. Don't make them feel like a project or an assignment.
· Anyone that has been a member of this church for a while knows that when an individual or family stops participating regularly, they get discussed in various councils within the ward. Obviously, we discuss these families because we love them, and we know that our Heavenly Father wants us to help them. But if a family got minimal contact while they were active, and then everybody and their dog stopped by now that they have left, this reeks of "project." We need to show love and interest no matter their activity level.
2. Don't make them feel guilty for not attending.
· This is a tricky one. We want them to know they are missed but not guilty. When I served with the young men, I made a habit of texting the boys who missed church to let them know I noticed. I worried they might think my goal was to make them feel guilty, but hopefully, I had created enough of a foundation of love that they could see that was not my intention.
3. Don't be an assigned friend.
· As I researched to prepare this message, I spent some time on online discussion boards where less-active members shared their thoughts on home-teaching and ministering. One of the biggest complaints was the idea of ministering being a system of "assigned friends." And to a certain extent, there is some truth to this. But if we truly learn to love the people we are assigned to, we move above that idea and see this is not our motivation.
1. Do, Change the way you introduce yourself.
· When introducing yourself to a less-active member, instead of presenting yourself as their assigned minister, say: "I'm here to be your connection to the ward. I'm here to help when needed."
2. Do, ask them how they envision your relationship.
· I have found great success in asking this question. I have families that ask me to visit every month, families that only want a periodic check-in text, and everything in between. I feel it shows that we want to minister in a way that is meaningful to them.
3. Do, Invite, invite, invite.
· You may be performing legendary ministering efforts, but they still have their agency. Our job is not to bring them back. Our job is to invite them back, and then when they're ready, take them by hand and walk with them. Never stop inviting.
4. Do, pray for them by name. Do, think about them.
· It is challenging for our Heavenly Father to prompt us if our mind is always elsewhere. Sister Bonnie H. Cordon stated: "As we pray and seek to understand their hearts, I testify that Heavenly Father will direct us and His Spirit will go with us." If we keep these people in our thoughts and prayers, the Lord will provide answers as to how to impact their lives.
5. Do, go to work. Do something, do anything.
· Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has urged us to: "Counsel together, use all resources available, seek the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, … and then roll up your sleeves and go to work. I give you a promise: if you will follow this pattern, you will receive specific guidance as to the who, what, when, and where of providing in the Lord's way."
6. Do, love them!! Care for them! Accept them as they are!
· Nothing will work unless they know we care. But different people get the message in different ways. Find those ways that help that specific person feel your love.
I know the Ministering program is inspired. I know that if we minister the way that our Savior modelled, in the specific ways they need, motivated by love, that miracles can occur.
One final "don't." Don't get discouraged if your efforts don't lead to "success." There isn't one correct answer. If you're trying, then you're ministering. In this new higher holier system of looking after the flock, success isn't defined, so there is no failing. Just do what you can to make sure they know you love them.