Despite loud (very loud) protestations to the contrary, it seems to me that the local churches are writing off a certain number of folks who "fall through the cracks"....just as in a business model where there are bound to be losses through shoplifting or breakage: part of the game, they say.
Mostly this is a characteristic of large congregations.....how large? who can say specifically? It does seem to me, in my thoroughly subjective view of this, that the larger the congregation, the more likely it is to happen, and the more likely it is to be "written off" as a natural consequence.
It's like there is an unwritten protocol, a time frame in which absent members or wayward members are dealt with. If a family absents itself for a week or two, they get the phone calls, perhaps even personal visits. After a month, this contact diminishes; after two months or so, all communication ceases. The times vary but the end result is the same: "members" of the body are amputated. The attitude out of which this is born reminds me of the old Hollywood line "What have you done for me lately?" If someone is not currently behaving in a manner befitting your ideal, they are to be cut off and forgotten!
If my reader here is naive, he might be thinking I am harsh. Let me give you just one example. Several years ago, we joined a prominent church in a new (to us) community. I was in the very early days of prison ministry. Our new pastor gave us a directory of church members and I spent some time looking though it, identifying folks whom we'd met and wondering about those whom I'd never seen in the services. Most of the photos were of families or couples but there was one which caught my eye: a single man, 35-40....I'd never seen him around. I asked the pastor about him. "Oh, he's in jail I think...."
"Have you been to see him?" I asked. Nah, he thought some one had, one of the deacons. I asked around and no one knew much. (Turns out I asked the wrong people, but didn't learn that til later) About a year later, after we had started weekly meetings in one of the state prisons in this county, that very fellow from the directory walked into the chapel. He'd been in prison for 4 years at that point. He'd had no contact with anyone from the church.
That story has a happy ending. He is out on parole now, working, and attending church regularly (not the church where he was once a member, however...nor am I, for that matter). You see what I'm saying?....after a certain period of time, people are just written off, forgotten. "oh, he doesn't go here any more"
I know I said "one example" and this is not another, just a generality. Nursing home residents are another forgotten group. At one time, we did a lot of nursing home ministry. I cannot tell you how many folks I talked with week after week and asked if they were Christians, if they were "church members" and so forth, and how many responded along the lines of "I used to be a member of such and such a church"...but they'd lived in that nursing home for years and had no contact with their "church family"
"Well, they quit coming......." Yep, sure did! Locked up, shut in, disabled, paralyzed, mind's slipping, immobilzed by aging and illness.....they quit coming. And the "church" quit caring......
No, the "church" never cared. It was all "form" When one is there, in the proper place, making the proper sounds and motions, they are cool......they are part of the show. When one becomes anomalous, some effort is made to bring him back into the expected pattern, but if those efforts fail, the anomalies are quickly abandoned. Too much effort required, too much a departure from the routine, the sacred routine.
As we used to say in the insurance business, when 90 or so of us gathered for the hated, mandatory "sales meeting".....and the start was delayed because one guy was late..."One monkey don't stop the show"....The church is down with that! Those who fall by the wayside are left after minimal, token efforts....we cannot slow down the juggernaut simply to minister to a single person or couple. You win some, you lose some......