How to Shepherd the Invisible Church

OK, your congregation isn’t actually “invisible,” but at times, it can seem that way, at least for a large portion of the people.

  • How do you shepherd people you don’t see?
    This is the new era of “invisible” congregation; it’s a new challenge to demonstrate that you care.
  • Should you chase people who’ve been gone for six months or a year?
    Some people don’t want to be chased any longer. How do you know?
  • How do you show you care?
    Everyone is different, so how do you know what they need?

Reaching new people is the vision of leadership; shepherding people is the soul of leadership. Both are essential.

It’s easy to get focused on one or the other, but both are vital to the expression of a healthy church.

It seems natural to lean into vision right now, and again that’s vital, but we can’t falter on shepherding and aspects of discipleship merely because they are currently more difficult.

One pastor said it this way. “It’s kind of like when my kids moved out. They don’t want me calling all the time, but they still want to know I care, and I’m there when they need me.” That’s not easy to navigate.”

The approach to shepherding will have some differences depending on the size of your church, but the essence is the same.

And it always starts with the leaders who set the example.

A Shepherd’s heart:

1) Caring about people means you are willing to climb into messy.

Be honest about what it means to care.

I’m sure you’ve experienced, perhaps a boss, teacher, waiter, landscaper, or salesperson, etc., where you thought to yourself, “I don’t think they care.”

Caring about people isn’t automatic, and it requires intentionality. Caring also carries with it the willingness to get involved in difficult or painful situations.

Transformation rarely comes without raw moments of truth, which are often a little messy.

If that kind of caring isn’t in you, ask God to give it to you, and He will.

2) It’s necessary to be healthy to help others become healthy.

It requires a degree of emotional and spiritual health to have the personal margin needed to care for others.

This does not suggest a flawless life, but one that is strong and secure enough to pour into someone else.

Part of remaining healthy is knowing your limitations and boundaries. You can’t help everyone, so focus on listening, so you know who He wants you to personally shepherd.

3) Embrace the reality of the absence of a shepherd.

Without a shepherd, believers, especially younger Christians, are susceptible to the enemy.

This is not an indictment on any of us who lead; I fully understand it’s difficult to shepherd people who are not there, and it’s impossible to get to everyone.

(Phone calls and texts are helpful, but only go so far.)

It’s good to remember that there is an enemy who prowls about and seeks to destroy.

5 Guidelines to shepherd your people well in a time when the world has changed:

1) Start with the people you can see.

It’s easy to inadvertently overlook those who are with you because of your passion for reaching those still not reconnected back in relationship with the larger body.

It’s not intentional, but even side by side with those who serve, we can miss making sure these faithful ones are doing well.

Take a few minutes to check-in.

Your volunteers may be just fine, but it’s easy to hide pain behind a smile. Let them know you care. Ask how they are doing.

2) Grace is essential in shepherding your flock.

This past year has been tough on your congregation. Many people are not at their best.

It’s been challenging in one way or another for everyone. Together we have experienced things like fear, disappointment, confusion, disorientation, hurt, and a little bit of crazy.

Grace is your first and best approach to anyone who has been missing from church for a long time. Prayerful gratitude, joy, and a warm welcome when you reconnect are the best response to nurturing their souls.

There is a time for spiritual challenge but always bathed in grace.

3) It’s OK to ask honest and probing questions.

With love and care as your motivation, it’s OK to ask honest questions of those who’ve been part of your church but you haven’t seen for a long time.

In fact, it’s part of our responsibility as spiritual shepherds.

Asking someone you care about when they might return to church is not about attendance. It’s about worship and connection to the body of Christ.

If you have options such as micro-site worship experiences in addition to your larger gatherings, that’s great! Connection to the body of Christ is the point.

Asking if they are hurting or in a mess and need some help are caring questions. Life is messy, and you might be able to help.

4) Care with eternity in mind.

Whether it’s someone whose been missing or someone who is currently connected, keep the big picture in mind.

A good cup of coffee and an enjoyable conversation is always good, but don’t forget the main thing. Keep eternity in mind by guiding the conversation whenever possible and appropriate to their spiritual life.

Hey, I love to talk about cool guitars and great music, but it’s incredibly meaningful when someone asks me how it is with my soul. Especially when it’s obvious they really care.

One way to communicate you genuinely care is by listening well and giving time when it’s not convenient.

A few of my favorite questions to ask regarding spiritual life and eternity are:

  • “What’s God been saying to you most recently?”
  • “What’s your biggest spiritual struggle right now?”
  • “How is it with your soul?”

5) Always be kind and help those who have left your church feel welcome to return.

There are some, perhaps many, who have left your church, and they do not plan to return.

It’s always disappointing when someone leaves your church. Of course, it is. You cared for them as best you could, and not only miss them relationally but hope they continue to grow spiritually.

If they are growing spiritually in another church, though you miss them, that’s OK. In fact, thank God they are worshipping and serving somewhere.

And it’s so important to always let them know that should God ever change their mind; they are welcome to come back to your church any time!

For those who are not actively part of any church, above all, PRAY.

10 thoughts on “How to Shepherd the Invisible Church”

  1. So good Dan! Your fist point hits home because it’s easy to take for granted those people we can see. Great reminder to let them know they are loved and appreciated.

    1. Gary!
      Always good to hear from you, and thanks for your comments here!
      (got your email, will respond soon1)

  2. Thanks Dan for great reminders. Genuine and daily shepherding seems to be a practice that is disappearing in our churches. So many pastors enjoy the preaching, but the work of shepherding and coming alongside of others not so much.

  3. Joy Aline Chetty

    Very helpful information as to how best to Pastor an invisible Church. Thank you and I will share with others also. Blessings

  4. It is good to see the thoughts of shepherding come back around. Thanks for the encouragement. Most of all we have to remember they want to be remembered and cared for. Amazing what a 5 minute phone call can do for someone’s spirit.

    1. Hi Toby!
      Been a long time, hope you are doing well!
      Glad this is encouraging to you!
      5 min call… for sure!

  5. Charles Kalanzi

    Thanks For this encouraging message Dan. Those key questions about someone’s spiritual life have blown me off. Great message indeed and God richly bless you

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