An article in The Children’s Friend of June 1909 may not be the earliest expression of concern for those we now call “less actives,” but it is the earliest I recall seeing. It seems to me very current in its analysis of the reasons for inactivity, while the old-fashioned charm of its wording breaks through the tedium of pulpit lectures we have heard so often that I struggle not to tune them out.
“During the Civil War it was a dreadful thing to have the name of one’s friend appear in the list of the ‘missing’ after the battle. In our spiritual warfare, there is a record of splendid victories; but there is also a list, not often published, but which may be found by reference to the roll of the association, a list of the ‘missing.’ Their names are upon the roll, but their bodies, their minds, their talents — where are they?”
Next comes the lecture:
“Where are the missing members? What evil has befallen them? What new influence has come into their lives? Why have they wandered away from us? What can we do for them? How can we bring them back to their place? Every officer at every session ought to ask these questions very frequently and earnestly, for we owe a duty to our missing members. We are not through with them when they have disappeared from their accustomed places.”
The unnamed author enumerates the causes she (?) sees for inactivity:
1. “Excused absences”: “Some of them are sick, or disabled, or absent from their homes, or in some other way providentially hindered from attendance at the Primary. They would be greatly helped and encouraged if it were made known to them that they are missed.”
2. Habit: “Others have been kept from meeting with us for a time, and they had a sufficient reason for their absence during that time, but when it became possible for them to return, they had to some extent lost their interest. … They might be brought back by a cordial visit and a cordial invitation to return. The statement that they ought to return without waiting for a special invitation to do so may be perfectly true and reasonable, but it will not excuse us for neglecting our duty to them.”
3. Offense (you knew that had to come up, but look at the non-judgmental way it is handled): “There are others who have become offended. It may or may not be that they have had sufficient cause — that is not the important question just now. Every week of absence unbroken by a friendly call from an officer or some member of the association who is anxious for their return, only deepens their conviction that they are not either missed or wanted. It is for those of us who have noted their absence to break up that impression; and the more prompt our action, the easier will be our work. If our association stands for love and fellowship, the fact ought to be emphasized by our treatment of our missing members. Let us not suffer them to be even tempted to believe that we do not care for them. Let us prove to them that we are far from being indifferent as to their attitude to us.”
The author concludes, “There is an old saying, that ‘a penny saved is a penny earned.’ … [W]e plead for the old members who may be saved by a little well-directed effort. Look over your roll, and prepare a list of the ‘missing.’ Pray over it earnestly, and then set to work resolutely to reclaim them. Every missing member brought back into touch and love with your work will be worth all the efforts made to win them back.”
This actually makes me feel for the moment like I can and should search for “the missing” as if I already knew and loved them. Do you, like me, think old sermons and lessons put familiar ideas in an old but attractive dress so that we can notice them again?