During the appeal at the close of his message, Pastor Allen was thrilled to see a thirty-something man rise from his seat and make his way to the front of the worship center. The event was especially emotional because the pastor knew the back-story. Two years before, the man I'll call Irwin had begun attending the church. Sporadically at first, then with regularity. Soon the man began showing up every week for the morning Bible study class. There was strong evidence he was making progress toward the kingdom.
Then he stopped. Irwin dropped out of sight. I mean, he disappeared.
One of the local elders noticed the vacant pew where Irwin usually sat and became alarmed. The elder sent out a prayer alert to the members: "Pray for Irwin, ALAT [as long as it takes]," he pleaded. The church did.
But that's not all. Several of the members of Irwin's Bible class sent him cards. Just to let him know he was missed. One of the members called Irwin and asked if they could have lunch together. Off and on some would stop by his house just to say "Hi." (Or, in the south where I live, they'd say "Hey.") It was as though the church couldn't get Irwin off its collective mind.
When the midweek prayer meeting convened on Wednesdays, Irwin's name was near the top of the list. The folks poured out their intercession for their friend, asking God to push back the powers of evil that were warring with Irwin's soul and give him strength for his journey.
Then one morning, Irwin re-appeared.
No one made a spectacle of it. There was no announcement from the front that, "Hooray, Irwin is back!" No one said, "Well, it's about time." There was just a deep sense that the Holy Spirit had won a battle in which they themselves had been participants.
Everyone loves a victory, especially at the conclusion of a spiritual battle. As Pastor Allen began his appeal and Irwin moved determinedly to the front, most of the congregation was in tears. Led by the local elder, the prayer meeting crowd, and the friend who took him to lunch. And the pastor. And Irwin.
We say a person is unchurched if they have no relationship to a local congregation. He or she may be a believer, but just hasn't come to understand the strength that comes from belonging. But when there is once a connection with a local church who puts its arms around that pre-member, a miracle often happens.
The guest inherits a family who won't let go. The members are haunted by the empty pew. They storm the gates of heaven with their praying. They devise persuasive and tenacious ways to say, "You are loved here. Nobody slips away from this family unnoticed. Nobody."
— Don Jacobsen is part of the NAD Prayer Ministry; this story was published in the HOPE Heals e-newsletter.