This summer I am sharing a list of 9 ideas for Cal-Pac pastors and laity as we live into Bishop Grant’s challenge to increase worship attendance and professions of faith. Here are earlier posts: #1
Idea #2 – Prayer
Are we praying for our churches to reach new people? Are we praying for people who do not know Jesus Christ and do not have a church home? Many of us are but probably just as many of us are not.
Recently a pastor shared his belief that since overall the church was in decline, his church could not be expected to grow. I guess that is one way to look at it. But it isn’t the only way.
First, while it is true many churches are in decline, it is also true our population is growing (especially in the West) and that people continue to be interested in authentic spirituality. It is like that old story of two shoe salesmen who are sent to sell shoes to a community where no one wears shoes. The first salesman calls the main office and says, “I’m coming home. No one here wears shoes.” But the second salesman calls the main office and through his excitement exclaims, “No one here wears shoes! The market for shoes is unlimited.” Perspective matters.
Second, churches, like all institutions, go through cycles – both up and down. During John Wesley’s time the church was also in decline but through his work many were brought to faith. In fact, some might say that the decline of Wesley’s time is what challenged him to grow the number of committed Christians! Times of decline call forth our creativity and our willingness risk and try new things. Wesley’s creativity seen in where he preached, in his constant publishing, and in his meeting people’s needs changed Christianity forever. Who is the next Wesley? Time will tell.
Third, if we are the people of God, saying and believing things that shut the door to growth (“all churches are in decline so why would my church grow?) invites discouragement. Let’s be honest, most of us have been there. Discouragement happens. But discouragement (or cynicism) cannot be our “business as usual.” Our work, regardless of the times in which we live, is to share our faith with new people and generations, and to be partners with God in bringing about God’s kingdom. Being discouraged by decline or distracted by nostalgia isn’t worthy of our calling.
So, back to prayer. If we want to be a vital church, reaching new people and sharing the good news, let us begin with prayer.
Some of us may need prayer for healing, asking to be healed from our cynicism, our discouragement and our belief that the past was somehow better.
Some of us need prayer so we might once again open our hearts to think and to see the world differently. For the church isn’t going back to 1950’s and the future belongs to those who will embrace that.
So, ask: How could you and your church pray in order to embrace the possibilities that the Spirit might have for you and your community?
- Have a discussion about church growth. Do you believe your church can grow? Why or why not?
- Pray daily for the Holy Spirit to show you how to open your heart (and church) to new people.
Articles on spiritual practice
Articles on understanding church decline