Monday, July 2, 2012
Getting out so others may get in...
You must get out of the building!We don’t know of any monasteries that people are knocking the doors down to get into. If you want your church to grow, get into the community. They aren’t coming to you! As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care!” And they won’t know how much you care, unless you actually go and meet some of them! Hard to do that, if you are waiting inside your church for people to come and find you. Harder still if you are hiding from the world! In fact, our experience shows that churches that do 6 outreach activities/events per year almost always become revitalized. Why? Because these activities demonstrate to the community and the congregation that the church doesn’t exist just for itself. Maybe it’s time to remodel your church, so the doors swing OUT into the community! We know that Jesus is the only Door into the Church, but until you have lots of doors that are swinging open into the community, you will see very few people coming inside your building looking for Jesus.
I found the first sentence interesting. I am not sure to whom this advice was being directed -- Pastor or lay -- but I found the presumption carrying a certain amount of bias. Unless I am sorely mistaken, none of our congregations has a dormitory to house our folks. Everyone, including the Pastor, is in the community. I hardly think the issue is getting out of the building. Judging from the mad rush to the door in my parish, the folks here do not have a problem getting out of the building. Many wish they could get out a little sooner on Sunday morning. Okay, I know, that is not quite the point. But it is.
Our people, therefore, the Church, are always out of the building. It would seem to me that the problem is not getting out of the building but, to use the words of a Gospel reading a week or so ago, scattering the seed. We are already out of the building. We are in workplaces, shopping areas, professional centers, neighborhoods, parks, etc... We are not there occasionally. We are there all the time. What are we doing there? That is the issue.
For too many years we have been told to share our faith. Our faith is not what our Lord calls us to share. Our faith cannot be replicated either by action, reason, or argument. We are not here to convince people by our faith to believe as we believe. What we are called to share is the Word of God. We are here to scatter the seed of the Word -- in words and in actions. It seems to me the problems in our church body stem less from people not getting out there than from a severe lack of confidence in the Word of God to do what God promises it will do.
We share about everything but the Word. We host all sorts of self-interest groups. We cater to a variety of tastes in music and worship. We have Bible studies for those who want to listen and those who want to talk, for those who seek THE truth and those who are looking for MY truth. We organize groups for people by age, interest, marital status, hobby, and need. We have parking and handicap accessibility. We have buildings that look like the mall and come complete with all the amenities. What we lack is the courage and conviction to speak clearly and with confidence the Word of the Lord. Jesus promises that where that Word is scattered, the Lord will bring forth the plant, the fruit, and gather the harvest (at the proper time). But we have turned the scattering into a business proposition in which we market what we were called to preach and we preach everything people want to hear but that which the Lord has given us to say.
It would seem to me that the biggest problem we have in growing the Church is that we are too focused on the things we do and not focused enough on what God does. We say over and over again the Word will not return to Him empty but will accomplish His purpose. Then we adapt worship to fit personal taste and make our preaching and teaching fit the prevailing norms of communication technology. We cast visions like seasoned fly fishermen and we professional missionals minding the business goals and keeping up the current stats. But I am not so sure we actually speak clearly and faithfully the Word of the Lord -- or if we do, whether that is central to what we do and who we are.
If there is a common malady affecting congregations, it is not getting out into the community but getting the Word out into the community. All in all it does no matter how well known we are if we have nothing to say to those folks who know us. It is not our caring that will save them or our winsome welcome but the Word spoken with courage, confidence, and conviction. We do not need to see the results to know that God is at work when the words and deeds of His people proceed from and return to the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Finally one clarification. It is not what we do that revitalizes us as individual Christians or as the Church. It is and always remains what the Lord does, working through Word and Sacrament. I suppose it is possible, but I believe highly unlikely, that a congregation of baptized people, boldly confessing the faith, regularly gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord, and convinced that God works through this Word, will die... nor will they fail to produce the good fruit of the Kingdom that lasts... Just sayin...