by Mark Einspahr
Except for Christmas and Easter, I love to greet at church.
On those two occasions, you get so many visitors at the door that it’s almost overswhelming. While it is good, you also get the two-timers. You know, those people who are “on your books” but come only at Easter and Christmas.
As a fellow greeter, I can recite the conversation you might have had at Easter:
Greeter: “Hello! We’re so glad you’re here. Thanks for visiting us. Would you please sign our guest book?”
Two-timer: “Sign? I’m a member here, and have been for five years.”
Greeter (thinking quickly): “Ah. Oh. I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you. I’m sort of new.” If you have two services you can add, “Well, you must go to the other service.”
Translation of this last response: “I’ve been going here for three years, and I’ve been here almost every Sunday, but I cannot remember ever seeing you. However, I’m too nice to say that out loud.”
I suspect this has happened to some of you.
As I began to think about “two-timers,” I realized the reference has a negative connotation. Two-timers. We have all met them. They walk in, talk to a few people they know, leave after the service, and are not seen again until another holiday.
While this is seldom a hot topic in the churches with which I’m familiar, it is something that is rarely talked about in a good light. Hardly a good word is said about the subject, even by pastors. Many people, and I include myself, have even disliked two-timers. I mean, the audacity—to show up twice a year and expect to reap the same rewards as the rest of us. They haven’t done anything to help the congregation. They haven’t given any money—or, perhaps worse, they cut a big check twice a year, as if that will ensure their standing. They don’t teach Sunday School, serve on the property committee, or behave as though they know something about church manners—“Hey, do you know you’re sitting in my seat? I sit here all the time.”
Yet, over the years, as I have gotten older and rounder and softer (both in attitude and because of my rounder-ness), my thinking on two-timers has changed. It has changed in two ways.
First, I have remembered that the number of times I attend church will not get me into heaven. The simple act of coming to church is not going to get me or anyone else saved. Going to church is like any other act; it is a response to God for the love and faith the Holy Spirit has created in us. We come to church to worship the Lord and learn of His love for us.
We come to have our faith strengthened through hearing the Word. We come for the fellowship we get by gathering with fellow believers. We come to receive the forgiveness for our sins through both Baptism and Holy Communion.
Now don’t get the wrong idea, I know that “faith comes by hearing.” I don’t want to dilute that in any way. What I want to do is change how that gets applied to two-timers, and that is how I have changed in the second way.
More and more, I want to be happy—and I want us to be happy—that they come and hear the Word. Instead of passing judgment, I want to accept the fact they have come and encourage them while they are here. I want to take the time to understand why they only come twice a year, not punish them for coming twice a year. When we show true, honest, loving and God-pleasing concern for these people, we may give them the boost they need to come more often.
We need to take an extra step: Point them out to our pastor; introduce them to our friends. Pray for them and follow up with a call to them the next week. A friendly call, from someone besides the pastor, saying thank you for coming, may go a long way to helping them be more faithful.
What I am saying is this: It’s a two-way street. Yes, two-timers may not have been in church for a half-year, but have we as a church contacted them in those six months? Did we take the time to see them when they hadn’t been to church for two months? Did we call on them and say, “Hey, we missed you. Are you okay?” As a congregation, are we two-timers ourselves, in that we contact them only when we are (1) conducting our stewardship drive or (2) doing our yearly review of our members? Is this the message they are getting from us as the church: You only matter when we need money or are taking a census?
All of this may not work. We may not change some two-timers. (Changing hearts is, of course, the work of the Holy Spirit.) What I do know is this: A proverbial slap on the wrist or cold shoulder for poor attendance seldom produces positive results. We need to ensure that those we perceive as two-timers are not being given the two-timing treatment by ourselves as a church. Engagement and a hand extended in genuine friendship offers a better course.
As Lutherans, we have so much to offer—a rich liturgy and a rich history. Most important, we offer the true and unerring Word of God. In a word, what we have is CHRIST, and that needs to get out to everyone. Especially to those who only come to church twice a year.