Water Mosaic echoes from home

pondering the mysteries, simplicity, and humor of life

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Decreasing attendance

In one of my graduate classes, Intro to Ministry, one of the students mentioned another teacher saying, "Involvement Minister's are a waste of the church's money." I thought, "Geez, that's harsh." One of my close friends is in a position such as this. I began to wonder, why would he say something like this. I mean, how are you going to arrange 500, 1000 or even 2500 people in your church without some sort of activity, ministry, or small group to be involved in?

Before I begin, let me state that I do believe in church and that God has called His people to be the catalyst for blessing others, to bring His Kingdom "on earth as it is in heaven." I also believe in some sort of involvement within the body, not by guilt of course, but through a loving caring community that desires to see all be disciples and transformed into Jesus' image.

After reading a paper by another theologian, I began to ask myself, "Shouldn't we be deployed into our neighborhoods and communities and world to build relationships with those around us, even the disenfranchised?" YES! But can't we do that besides Sunday morning or Sunday night or Wednesday night or Thursday night when our small group meets or Tuesday morning men's prayer time? My point here is that maybe we shouldn't wrap ourselves in "church" so much and actually live out what we hear from our pulpits. Maybe we could afford to skip a Bible study now and then. What if, instead of measuring church attendance, we measure it by its deployment?

I remember a friend of mine, Jason Staples, who would tell me that he was going to get his Sunday school class to go and serve outside the church into the slums during their ordinary time of Sunday school. I thought, "But that's time for Sunday school. You know, time to sit there and listen to someone talk about what needs to change in my life or to read passages and be able to answer questions from the text (mostly 'Jesus' or 'God' or 'prayer' etc.) ." Isn't that what Sunday school is all about? (another subject for another time) A great enemy to our outreach is seeing the church as a fortress or social club. In this model, it pulls folks from their environment, their neighbors, their workplaces, their schools and other networks into a religious ghetto. There it must entertain them (worship styles or educational programs) and hold them (through means such as fear and guilt). Thus as Brian McLaren states, "Christians are warehoused as merchandise for heaven, kept safe in a protected space to prevent spillage, leakage, damage, or loss until their delivery."

And so we return to the original statement of "involving members." Maybe what this teacher was saying was that we need to concentrate our efforts on making our communities useful for this world. Instead of getting more people to attend church more of the time, we will try to get the people that attend church to do so only as much as is necessary and no more so they can spend more time interacting lovingly with their neighbors as an expression of their life in the kingdom of God as disciples. To engage them outside of the walls of the church. To have the word "church" mean what it's supposed to mean, and that is an open community of disciples sharing a way of life together and calling others to belong to this work of being God's agent in His saving work. To love others no matter what the cost, welcoming strangers and not waiting around to be taken into heaven so that others will be Left Behindtm to endure the rapture.