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The Bystander Effect and Churches

If cars are 5 or more minutes apart on a road, a hitchhiker can usually get a ride by the time the third or fourth car comes by.  If there are 10 cars per minute, average waiting time increases to about 1 to 2 hours for the same hitchhiker.  If there is one person walking down the street when a person is distressed, that person will probably help.  If there are 20 people walking down the street, often no one will help.  This is because of the Bystander Effect.  If we believe we are the only person who can help a stranger, we will probably help if we can.  If we believe there are many other people who can help, we probably won’t.

The Bystander Effect causes two kinds of problems for churches.  When a person becomes very ill or seriously injured, and only person knows, that person will probably contact the church to let the office and the minister know.  If several people know,  each of them will expect someone else to contact the church.  I have heard several stories in my time in ministry of people that spent weeks or months in the hospital without a visit or other contact from the church, and all because no one contacted the church. So, if you become aware of someone from the church who is sick or hurt, please let the church know.  We would rather get the news 5 or 10 times than not at all.

The other kind of problem is when there is a problem with the church, and everyone who notices the problem expects someone else to report or do something about it.  It might be a little thing like some place that needs painting, or a nail sticking out of a wall, or it might be a bigger thing.  I would like everyone who comes to church to experience it as well cared for, safe, and attentive to the details that can make a big difference to the experience of church.  Churches benefit from members alerting the office or the board to problems or potential problems.

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