Old Year, New Year

From a church perspective last year was somewhat stressful. The church had been thinking for years about acquiring the grocery store property across the street. We knew we couldn’t expand to the south (down town), the east (court house & jail), the west (farmstead museum). North was the only direction we could go. We needed parking and, since the church was growing, more space for our activities.

But it happened sooner than we expected.

We’d just finished renovating the sanctuary and stained glass windows. We were almost done paying 200k to rebuild the pipe organ. Then along comes Oscar, telling us he’s going to retire, wondering if we’re still interested in the property. The church leadership saw an opportunity that might never come again, so we grabbed it.

Acquiring the property is a good thing. Paying for it – and paying for its renovation to a usable state – is a big challenge. I wondered how we would come up with the money to pay for it, for our sanctuary renovation loan, and pay our ever-increasing apportionments. The good news is that we’re making it. We don’t have the money we need yet for the renovations, but we’re paying the note on the property. We also paid our apportionments in full – in December even!

Another piece of good news: The last time the church had averaged 200 in worship was 1966. I’d set that as a goal ever since I arrived. It seemed pretty unrealistic at first, since the church had averaged 135 the previous year. We were close the last couple of years, but we finally made it in 2006.

I’ve said over and over that there are two practical secrets to raising attendance. First, people who already attend can attend more often. Everyone has their particular attendance pattern. Some come once a month, some twice a month. If each of these folks raises their attendance just a little, say, an extra Sunday a month (or even a quarter), our attendance will go up. Second, in addition to people who already come coming more, increased attendance comes from new people coming. Some people will come simply because they’re new in town and have a habit of going to church somewhere. Others – the majority, I think – come because they’ve been invited. Our people have done a great job of inviting these past few years.

So are we ready to be triumphalists? I’m not. We still have a long way to go.

Regarding attendance, while 203 is a great improvement over 135, it’s still less than half our membership. How can a Body work and be healthy when less than half of it is functioning at any given time?

Regarding finances, while we’re keeping up, paying our bills, making progress, there are still a large number of folks who don’t trust God in the area of money enough to tithe.

Finally, both of these areas – attendance and money – have the advantage of being easily measurable. But we don’t have a scriptural call to do either. Oh sure, I’m sure that paying our bills and participating in church life is pleasing to God, but our big command (the Great Commission) is to make disciples. I’m still yearning to make disciples – and to see the church as a whole become a disciple making church. We have activity down. We’re getting better at having a good, optimistic attitude. But life change… that’s what I’m praying for. What will it take to make it happen?

Here’s a stab.

First, it’ll require those of us who are already here being open to God’s work in our own life. We we don’t let God bring change to our own lives, how can we expect other people to seek it or want it?

Second, we’ll have to spend more time in prayer. We can work hard and pull off gimmicks that raise attendance and funds. But only God can change a life. As long as we’re satisfied with few (or no) lives changed, we’ll never pour our hearts out the way Jesus wants.

Third, we’ll have to find more ways to spend time with non-church people and to call them to faith. We’re a bunch of spiritual introverts, so this will take some work. But it’s worth it.

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