Preaching a sermon in which the on-going decline of our congregation is highlighted is not easy to preach. I did so, today, after praying hard about this sermon for several weeks. I preached knowing that reminders of our decline are hard to hear. My hope is to call attention to the biggest challenge we face: that of turning from a thirty four year decline, to growth.
It is important for us to be clear about the decline at work among us. Recovery never happens without honesty. To change our path, we must honestly assess and truthfully encounter the challenge before us, while valuing all that good that has happened during this time. Remembering all the good we continue to experience, we are trying to figure out how to be the Church at its best in a time when so much has shifted in society.
Here’s a snapshot of the decline we are experiencing. Over the past 34 years we have seen our membership decline by 60%. We have said goodbye to about 700 more people than we have welcomed into the congregation at the same time. Likewise, worship attendance has declined by 56 percent. The numbers behind this snapshot tell a story of decline. Neither the snapshot given here nor the numbers behind the snapshot, tell the stories of ministry done well that continued during this time of decline.
The “Biggest Challenge” we face is the challenge of moving from decline to growth. We can do this with God’s help, as we refocus our attention on the call of Christ to be the Church at its best in our current context, for people of all ages. We can do this because Jesus calls us to do so.
In the weeks and months ahead we are going to focus on moving from decline to growth. As we acknowledge the decline we will not let the decline be our focus. Instead, we will spend our time asking the questions that have the potential to redirect us:
- What is God trying to do among us?
- What are we trying to do?
- Why do we do what we do?
- How well does what we do line up with what God is trying to do?
- What does God call us to do?
I know that talk of decline is unsettling. It makes us squirm in our seats and raises our anxiety. Now we need must let this anxiety do a healthy work among us: We must let it challenge us to engage the questions before us faithfully.
One thought on “Addressing Our Biggest Challenge”
A comment was made yesterday in the Divine Drama group that this message is “not attractive.” I’ve been thinking about that as well, thinking along the lines of “OK. I get it. 34 years of decline… A sense of urgency… But beware speaking it too much, because who wants to join a group that’s declining.” Indeed, this is a troublesome message from a, oh, “marketing” standpoint. And I would caution that an overemphasis on decline can bring more power to that decline. But now I think I’m understanding the bigger plan here. Squirming brings change. I’m beginning to see how this unsettling message is going to come together into one of hope, and more importantly, to spur action. I’m not yet sure what the action will look like. But I think that not unlike the Voice in Field of Dreams, if we’re spurred to build what we believe, THAT will be attractive.