I have good news and bad news:
The good news is spring training has begun. Welcome back baseball!!
The bad news is:
That’s pretty sobering (those #’s are from the North American Mission Board). So what CAN we do to reverse the trend? I offer up the following 13 thoughts; these are just nuggets, and need fleshing out, of course. But it’s a start…
Prayer: I know, I know, I’m supposed to say that. But I firmly believe, and I believe history has proven, that revival/renewal/growth in the church has always been preceded by a concert of prayer. We have begun a specific time of prayer in our church, open to all who can come. A faithful core meets weekly, and we’re praying for a mighty movement of the Spirit.
Sunday School/Small groups: No matter what it’s called, a vibrant small group Bible study opportunity is vital to the health of the church. When believers and non-believers gather together to study the Word, amazing things happen. This is an area of focus for us in 2013 (and beyond), and I’m excited to see what God is going to do in this area.
Discipleship/Mentoring: This follows on the heels of small group ministries, and becomes an intentional extension of them. Hopefully you can point to someone in your life who helped/advised/encouraged/etc. you through some early struggles in your faith walk. Who are you pouring your life into? Someone needs your wisdom and guidance.
Missions: Again, I’m not sharing anything you don’t already know. Missions is vital, but are we actually doing anything? It is easy to send money (and they need it, right?); don’t let that rationalization slip into the fabric of the church. Keep sending money. But start sending people. This may not be comfortable for some people, but keep reading. I’m not a big fan of the ‘comfortable cop-out.’
Evangelism: Uh-oh, the E word. Here’s what I’ve heard so many times over the years: ‘But I’m not really gifted in that area. I’m much more comfortable working in the kitchen, etc.’ Couple quick thoughts…
First, the folks who say this don’t wind up in the kitchen, either.
Further, and more disturbing, is the desire in the church to be comfortable. Since when are we promised comfort in the church? It is our pursuit of comfort that has landed us in the situation we find ourselves! Not until we become uncomfortable will we become effective servants for the Lord. Uncomfortable with the status quo. Uncomfortable with the pain around us. Uncomfortable with the thought of people (men, women, and children) living lives without hope. Uncomfortable.
Sharing our Stories: What is evangelism, really? Is it not simply telling our story? We need to begin to celebrate our stories. We need to begin to embrace our stories. But first, we need to share our stories! Share your story with a friend over coffee; share it with your small group; take the step and share it with your church (you can do this via video if that would make you more…comfortable. Ugh. I’ll meet you halfway).
Giving: Simply, are we being good stewards with what God has blessed us? Do we give with a joyful heart? Do we give generously? As the old saying goes, ‘Show me a man’s checkbook, and I’ll show you where his heart is.’ For you younger folks who have no idea what a checkbook is, you can send us your online banking statements. Thanks.
Fellowship: If one thing has changed dramatically in my lifetime in the church, it is the way we fellowship with one another. Or the way we don’t. Because of our uber-busy lives (that’s another sermon for another day), families don’t have the flexibility or the time to participate in many, or any, fellowship activities. This is where the power of an effective small group ministry comes into play. Fellowship has become a ministry in micro, as similar demographic groups worship, study, and play together. But do not forsake it!
Children’s Ministry: I have found that the pulse of the church can be taken through the children’s ministry. Active ministry? Healthy church. Stagnant ministry? Dying church. I don’t know any way to soften that blow. If I were to start a church today, it would be designed, built, staffed and resourced with the children’s ministry at its core. Period. What does your children’s ministry look like? What priority is it given in the big picture? Listen to what Nelson Mandela said:
There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.
Tradition: I love tradition. Heck, I was an incense-swinging Episcopalian acolyte. But loving tradition and living in tradition are not the same thing. Jaroslav Pelikan said:
Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.
In a nutshell, it’s the –ism that gives tradition a bad name. Let’s not live in traditionalism any longer. As the numbers show, it’s not a place we can afford to continue to reside.
Functional Space: For a man, I’m pretty touchy-feely, but I’m not (repeat, not) going to sit on someone’s lap on Sunday morning. And neither is anyone else. For the church to grow, there has to be someplace for the people to go. I know, that was pretty deep, so I’ll repeat it: we have to plan for actual people to come into our actual churches and have a place to actually sit. In all seriousness, we have groups in our church that are hesitant to invite guests, because space is an actual issue. So let’s do something about it. Re-design some space. Build some space. Use more creatively your present space. Create space for people to join you!
Sacred Space: Reports are starting to surface showing that young people are beginning to seek out sacred spaces. In our warehouse church world, what sometimes gets lost is the opportunity to gather in an intentionally sacred space. Let’s not torch the historic chapels and sanctuaries just yet! I’ve worshipped in both atmospheres, and they both have their benefits, of course. I’ve seen modern churches that do a wonderful job incorporating the sacred into the worship experience (through music and the arts), but I’ve also worshipped in ‘sanctuaries’ that were designed for performance, not worship itself. But having said that…
Lastly: I sometimes think ourselves presumptuous when talking church growth, especially a specific church. Let’s be honest; is it the best thing for the kingdom of God that your particular church survives? Are we so concerned with our buildings and programs that we have lost sight of the ultimate purpose? Are we doing what God has called us to do, where He has called us to do it? Could that where be somewhere else? Are we holding on too strong and too long?
Let’s hold firm to the calling. Let’s reach, restore, and reproduce. Let’s nail down the why. The how and the what will follow, but they will demand that we get uncomfortable. But at least we’ll be alive.