I happen to be blessed to be the minister of a church that is growing and at peace. It saddens me to see a trend of dying and faltering churches, especially here in New England, where we can’t afford to have such losses. I have been putting these thoughts off long enough. Partly because this is my own take and might be totally off base. Partly because I understand that the reasons why churches flounder vary from place to place. Partly because I don’t want to come across as thinking I have the cure all for sick churches. Maybe I am just the recipient of good fortune to be in the right place at the right time. But I have heard the comments of visitors who witness what is happening in this little church who say they wish they could have what they see in their own congregation. Yet I look around our church and we don’t meet the criteria for what many would say belong to a dynamic church. I have seen so many articles on church growth and why churches are healthy. Get Elders and Deacons! Get rid of the pews! Make your worship dynamic! Put your members to work! Utilize social media, websites and technology!
Get Elders and Deacons? After 30 years of existence we finally appointed Elders, of which I am one. I love my fellow Elders, but all three of us are the laid back, take life easy sort. None of us are proactive, forward thinking visionaries. We are apt to deal with life when it comes to us rather than meeting life head on. But for all of that weakness, I would like to consider the function of Shepherds. Take the flock to green grass. Protect the flock from predators. Point people to the “Great Shepherd.” Despite our weaknesses, all three of us have a common understanding of what green grass looks like, the kind of food Christians need to eat to be healthy, and what kinds of influences we don’t need in the church. I wonder how many faltering churches have been chewing on dead grass of issues and topics that bear no relevance to the core of a person’s spiritual being. Maybe pre-millennialism and arguments over denominational doctrines pumped people up in the days of old, when the church followed the winner of the debate, but perhaps we need to rethink what Christ is wanting people in our lost world to hear today.
Get rid of the pews? Well, we have pews, and we actually are doing fine (thankfully, since they have cushions!) There are times I wish we had the funds to go to movable chairs. Our folding tables and chairs around the building are getting old, falling apart, dinged, warped, ripped, stained. But for all the benefit that might come from revamping our interior seating arrangement, people don’t come here because of that. There are other internal things drawing people to a living church that rise above a churches’ seating. It is not the position of the person in a seat that really matters. It is the position of the heart of the person, be it in a chair, or on a pew, or on a throw cushion, or on a hard dirt floor.
Make your worship dynamic? Our church is a bunch of Johnny-one-note’s who all sing soprano, accompanied by five people who can actually sing harmony, led from the front by song-leaders who generally start the pitch about four notes too low. Don’t get me wrong. I happen to be one of the (two) basses who can actually sing on tune. I love the joy of those times when the air is just right and we happen to hit on all cylinders and sing really pretty! I’m not saying bad congregational singing is a barometer of health. Maybe we would attract more people with a dynamic worship experience, but Jesus says that what will truly draw people to him is when he is lifted up … not through our worship, but through our lives. People who visit us may not see the true heart of Jesus based on how we sing, but I would surely hope they can see His heart in our eyes, our attitudes, and our interaction with one another.
Put your members to work? Lord knows we could really stand to improve in this area. We only have two (or maybe three?) areas that people would actually see as definite ministries, with established coordinators. We put a sign-up sheet for doing some work in the church and it gets treated like a three week old bulletin accidently left on the table. We too, scratch our heads over who will be our teachers for the next quarter. We wing our way through the year throwing together what bits and pieces of talent we have to pull off our annual Youth Rally and a growing Ladies’ Weekend. But for some reason, those events are loved, anticipated and well attended. I’m not promoting the notion of hodge-podge or shoddy church work. I know we’d be a lot further along if we could get more organized. I am just saying that if you aren’t blessed with organizers and people who can get your congregation organized into ministry categories, and if you don’t have a special place for everyone to work, all is not lost. You can have health as long as you have people willing to sacrifice and serve, even if they don’t jump up and do it when the word first goes out. Have patience with people, and don’t get bitter or sarcastic over people’s slowness to jump in, and give a word of encouragement to those few who are willing to step up to the plate and serve willingly.
Utilize social media, websites and technology? Power Point presentations? Riiiight! Maybe once in a purple moon. Well, we DO have a little power point projector. Our screen is a big king-sized sheet we string up when needed. Our website’s perpetual description is “under construction.” “Smart Phones?” An oxymoron to many of us. When I say, “turn to this scripture,” people actually grab their Bibles rather than their tablets. Evidently a church can have health without having the toys of modern technology. I know that our 2,000 year old message began in the day of paper, pens, horses and ships. That is good news for those of us who haven’t progressed too much beyond that.
When all is said and done, I can’t figure out why this church seems to have what health it does. Health is deceiving. Perhaps we aren’t as healthy as people might think. Maybe we’d double or triple in size with a few simple tweaks. The only thing I can figure is that whatever measure of health we have can only be attributed to the simple things:
- Like attitudes … realizing we are not the ones holding the Divine Gavel.
- Like majoring in the important areas of truth, and not getting bogged down in minors.
- Like understanding just what James was saying when he said, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
- Like coming to grips with what Romans 14 is really saying before heading into a church meeting with guns blazing.
- Like understanding that the freedom we have in Christ doesn’t have to always look like the freedom someone else has.
- Like recognizing the living Christ inside of us can do a far better job at aiming us in right directions than any man-made decree or human demand.
We don’t have to die as churches. But the key to survival might be totally revamping where our focus has been, what message we share with the world, and what image of the church we have created in the minds of people who are looking for a savior, not just for their souls, but also for their mixed up lives.