The Main Thing
“How do we keep our church alive?”
“How do we attract new members?”
“How do we bring in young families?”
You’ve read my thoughts on these before. But the questions keep coming up. Again. And again.
Our congregations see the numbers: the membership numbers, the financial numbers, and the statistics touted by researchers and media. The numbers and the questions make us wonder, “What is God doing among us?” Perhaps more importantly, we ask, “What do we do to follow God’s plan for us?”
I recently led a new members’ class, introducing a group of folks to Christian faith and to membership in the Presbyterian Church. We reviewed “The Ministry of Members” described in G-1.0304 from the Book of Order. The first role of every member of the Church is:
“proclaiming the good news in word and deed.”
I recently read a 2009 article by Carol Howard Merritt entitled What Can the Presbyterian Church Do to Turn Around Its Long Decline? (Office of Theology and Worship, Occasional Paper Series No. 4). In it Ms. Merritt tells us what churches can do:
“love our neighbors, care for our communities, and tell people about the good news of Jesus Christ” (p25).
She adds two pages later:
“Planting churches is the single best way to grow a denomination.”
I am reading and evaluating a workbook recently published, which is intended to help congregations to grow: Evaluation and Planning Manual: A Disciplined Method for Evaluating your Congregation and Planning a Future (Johnson & McLaughlin, 2015). Although the title does not excite the poetic soul, it tells you precisely the purpose of the book. Its work also relies heavily on an earlier book, Where Have All the Young People Gone?, a question many of our congregations grapple with.
The main thrust of the manual: Are we interested in actually talking to another generation about faith and Jesus Christ? Do we want to spend energy loving those outside our church?
A theme of the three questions at the head of this article is getting the world to come to us. The Book of Order, Merritt, and Johnson and McLaughlin, on the other hand, direct us to go out to the world and offer them good news. Here are more words from Ms. Merritt:
“As we minister in the name of our crucified savior, Jesus Christ, we know that our most profound message is one that proclaims our healing in our own brokenness, hope in the midst of death, and abundant life to the hurting world in which we serve” (p30).
When we ask questions about the future of the Church, we often ask the wrong ones. We must stop asking about how life can be kept in the Church. We must ask only how the Church can carry Life into the world. What is left behind will certainly die; but what is ahead will spring from the grave.
Of course, one might make this whole matter even simpler by attending to the words of the risen Christ: “Peace be with you [and stop worrying about the church]. As the Father has sent me, so I send you [out into the world]” (John 20:21).
I’m going. Who’s with me?
~ emrys tyler
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