The Last Gasps

Credit:  C. Mackowiak

Credit: C. Mackowiak

 

 

Last week I read an article titled The 10 Last Gasps of a Dying Church by Brian Dodd. Click on this link to read the entire article: http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/175170-brian-dodd-last-gasps-of-a-dying-church.html. Here are some excerpts:

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If you don’t like changeyou’re going to like irrelevance even less.” Those are the words of General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, who [was recently] in the news because of the VA scandal.

There are few things as sad as watching a once great church grow old, become irrelevant and slowly die. What is worse is that they either don’t know they’re dying, or they simply don’t care as long as those remaining are happy. Sadly, I have witnessed this more times than I wish to count. In addition, I have attended this type of church before.

Here is what I have noticed about many of these churches—at a pivotal point, a decision was made to continue doing ministry the way they always have rather than alter their approach to reach a changing community or the next generation. After months of committee meetings and off-line conversations, the church finally utters The 10 Last Words of Dying Churches—“We’ve never done it that way before. We’re not changing.”

Those 10 powerful words subsequently have a ripple effect that lasts generations.

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Statistics a few years ago showed that 51% of Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod congregations had worship attendance of fewer than 100 per week. Of 5,860 congregations reporting, 1,335 had 49 or fewer and another 1,659 had between 50 and 100 in attendance.

There’s absolutely nothing inherently wrong with small congregations, especially those who face demographic circumstances beyond their control. Nor is there anything particularly virtuous about larger ones. Most congregations I know simply find no joy in becoming smaller.

Whether large, small or midsize, congregations with dwindling worship attendance and their leaders are well advised to reflect prayerfully on the reasons for the shrinkage and to determine a strategy, without in any way mitigating the Gospel, for reversing the trend. Doing so sooner rather than later may help avoid the realities that might otherwise lead to last gasps.

Your Thoughts About Church Visitors

Church 1Perspectives articles the past two weeks have dealt with church visitors. Before moving on from this topic, it seems good to share a few responses I’ve received from readers. So here we go:

• Nathan wrote: “I think it is better to think of them (people who come to our churches) as guests rather than visitors. Guests are anticipated, prepared for and welcomed. Visitors are often viewed as an inconvenience.”

• Paul wrote: “This [discussion about church visitors] assumes that there are so many visitors coming to our churches that we need to develop answers to the questions being asked. Many of our churches have very few visitors. We really do need to get out of the church building (rather than expect all the people to come to us) and be the church in the community where people are living. That will help us discover the questions [church visitors are actually asking]!”

• Bill wrote: “Mama-Missouri stands at a crossroads between irrelevancy and connectedness. If we remain staunchly dedicated to being our grandfathers’ church (page 5 and 15), we hasten our demise. If, rather, we seek to connect with the lost, hurting and broken people around us, we might actually come closer to God’s idea of “church” in James 1:27: ”Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

• Paul also wrote: “When they [church visitors or guests] show up, we need to have a group of people (congregation) who are willing to engage with them and all they bring in appropriate ways, with answers and postures and a heart filled with Jesus type love and activity. That means a church engaged with people where they are–the public zone.

“We just are not too good at that. We figure that if we offer enough programs and resources and ‘stuff,’ people will hear about it and then choose what we offer rather than the same choices from other organizations down the street, at their work, with their friends, etc. I am not saying we shouldn’t have stuff happening at church. But relying on that to bring in visitors is probably too optimistic in our world today.

“Actually, what we do at church should probably be focused on developing the faithful to be faithful and faith filled in their communities! [We do well by] using our gathering as a means to an end—being washed by grace and then prepared and motivated to share [that grace] when we get our boots on the ground in the marketplace.”

Thanks for sharing your perspectives! Perhaps this little series of articles will stimulate some reflective thinking and creative acting! The Gospel is too precious to keep to ourselves! As the “This Little Gospel Light of Mine” song says: “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna’ let it shine!”

Let it shine! All the time! Let it shine!

More about Church Visitors

Visitor 2

Last week’s article listed “Nine questions visitors aren’t asking but churches are still trying to answer.” It generated quite a few responses, including several asking for a list of questions church visitors are asking these days.

So here’s a partial list of such questions, some of which were provided by my readers, most of which come from my own experience:

  1. Is the parking lot always this full?
  2. Where are the bathrooms?
  3. Are they clean and will they smell fresh?
  4. Will my young child be well cared for in the nursery and feel loved and safe there?
  5. How long will the worship service last?
  6. Will I be able to understand and follow what goes on in the service?
  7. Does the pastor preach from the Bible and does he really practice what he preaches?
  8. Does he always preach this long?
  9. Does he always preach this well (or poorly)?
  10. For what primary purpose does this church exist?
  11. What is the quality of the children’s ministry?
  12. Will my teenagers be excited about becoming involved here?
  13. Is there a ministry for senior adults?
  14. Do the people here get along with other Christians in the community?
  15. If they have communion today will I be allowed to participate?
  16. Will the time I spend here help me find answers to questions I have about God?
  17. Will the time I spend here help me find answers to questions I have about life?
  18. Would I be proud to invite my friends and family to come to this church with me?
  19. Will I leave here knowing and feeling that I have been in the presence of God?
  20. Will I leave here feeling more guilty than when I came or will I feel forgiven?

Pastors and lay leaders should have conversations about these and other questions visitors to your church are likely to ask. Such conversations are best when respectful and non-accusatory, asked and answered with sincere desire to represent with excellence the God we worship.

Remember last week’s reminder of our responsibility as Christians, stated in 2 Corinthians 5:20: “Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” That’s a huge responsibility and awesome privilege!

Church Visitors

Visitors 1Recently I saw an interesting article on MinistryMatters.com titled “Nine questions church visitors aren’t asking but churches are still trying to answer.” Here we go:

  1. So how soon can I get involved with your committees?
  2. Can I get a longer bulletin—maybe something with more detail?
  3. Will you please single me out in front of all the people during worship this morning?
  4. Will you please send some “callers” by my house later and interrupt me while I fix dinner?
  5. Can you please seat us in those uncomfortable pews with our fidgety kids and aging parents?
  6. How quickly can I fill out a pledge card?
  7. Does this church have weekly meetings, rehearsals and other activities that will consume most of our family’s free time?
  8. I need more paperwork! Can you give me a folder filled with glossy pamphlets, old newsletters and denominational statements of belief?
  9. During the worship service, can someone with a monotone voice speak (at length) about all the insider church happenings and people’s private health matters? I find this so inspiring.

Here are a few of my thoughts:

  1. Perhaps this brief article will inspire church leaders to consider carefully what to do and what not to do when communicating with church visitors, assuming some of those folks still exist in your community and are not totally extinct.
  2. We do well to be sensitive to the thoughts, impressions, needs and feelings of folks who take what to them may very well be a significant risk of becoming a church visitor.
  3. It is very important for us to see our church as others see it, including its exterior and interior features, restrooms, nursery, etc., and to see ourselves as they see us!
  4. Perhaps before we continue providing answers to questions no one is asking, we should take time to discern the questions people actually have on their minds.

Why is all this important? Purely because of our responsibility as Christians, stated in 2 Corinthians 5:20: “Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”

That’s an awesome responsibility and incredible privilege! Regardless of the reason people visit our church, they are people for whom Christ died! And we are Christ’s representatives to them!

Responding to People in Need

Credit: USA Today

Credit: USA Today

Many people have many needs. On any day in America, Christian people in and beyond their churches demonstrate genuine care and concern in response. While this is nothing new and while many churches, both in and beyond the LCMS could also be mentioned, I’ll share in this article the stories of three LCMS congregations of which I have become aware this past week.

The first is Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston, N.D. An article in the September 12, 2013, edition of The Dickinson Press tells the story of how this congregation has been providing temporary housing for job-seekers who can’t afford other arrangements.

Unfortunately, the facilities being used for temporary lodging are not in compliance with city code. That includes inadequate bathroom facilities and lack of handicap inaccessibility.

The Williston Planning and Zoning Department has declared that until the church remodels its facilities to meet building and fire codes, including addition of fire-protection sprinklers, the church will need to discontinue its “overnighters” program. So those who would otherwise be served by Concordia’s generosity will need to sleep in their vehicles or somewhere else.

The second and third are Redeemer and Christ Lutheran Churches in Fort Collins and Aurora, Colo., respectively. Facebook postings from good friend and Redeemer’s Pastor Tim Runtsch show team members from Redeemer and Christ responding to community needs in the aftermath of the horrendous flooding in that beautiful state, especially in the Boulder area.

In a few days folks in Colorado have received rainfall equivalent to their annual average and are experiencing historic flooding as a result. Homes have been destroyed, dams have been broken, and bridges have been washed away. Working together, members from Christ and Redeemer have distributed “a huge load of goods for people in need.” Remember them in prayer.

While only a few congregations are being highlighted in this article, you and I know that they are simply but significantly representative of many others whose pastors and people are moved by the love of Christ to respond to people in need. Similar responses also come from individuals and other groups, both in and beyond the Christian community.

As you hear their stories, express to those involved appreciation for their faithful service, generous contributions and diligent labors! Perhaps you already have been or will soon be moved to respond!