This past week we had the opportunity to meet with Sherry Parker-Lewis from the United Methodist Foundation. This group within the United Methodist Church deals predominantly with assisting churches in their finances and stewardship, but they also will speak to churches about their vision, mission, and growth. The necessity for churches to become communities marked by outreach and growth is important.
Perhaps most significant within our conversation was the concept of life stages for a church. Sherry shared the following chart with us:
What is noticeable within churches that are edging toward “old age” is the absence of vision and relationships, and the predominance of maintaining what was done in the past. The final energies of a body are put into keeping the doors open, the building standing, holding meetings and discussing whether or not a particular ministry can still be accomplished despite the waning numbers, health, and energies to do so. Forgotten is the question of why we want to hold the dinner, unless it is just to raise money to pay our bills.
Churches that fail to evaluate and renew their vision and mission, may fail to replenish their membership, and the evangelistic spirit within. The final act comes when the church community that is left is no longer able to sustain the expense of keeping the church open and finally closes.
However, this does not have to be. A choice can be made to again ask what our vision and mission is. As the world is ever changing so must our vision and mission be adaptable. We must be willing to reevaluate who we are, what our goal for life is, and how we are going to get there. We must focus and determine whether our actions meet the hopes we have set. If they do then we continue. If not, then we must be willing to throw out what is not working and try again. One minister once said the problem is not that we fail, but that we fail too slowly. With every effort that does not work is the opportunity to try again until success is found. Mike Breem in Building a Discipling Culture, states, “If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.” I consider these thoughts to be true. We must be willing to try something new, and to focus more on discipleship than just simply being. How are we calling all people in everything we do to have faith in Christ? Are others being invited to engage their lives within the living presence of Christ just by meeting us? While we may not have all the answers immediately, our task maybe to live into these questions, and to trust in the grace of God to meet us with the answers we seek.
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
Blessings, Pastor Russell