Thursday, February 2, 2012
Grow or Die
This has to be said. It might make you angry. It might make you stop and think. It might make you decide to never read this blog again. But it has to be said. I have been noting some recent Facebook posts that speak of the "demise of the church". Mostly, they are talking about the Episcopal Church of which I am a part. For years, it seems, we've been lamenting about all of the things that are wrong with the church and what we "don't have". If only my church had a bigger/nicer building. If only we were situated in a better demographic location over there next to the Chik-Fil-A. If only we had more children. If the national church would only stop debating about human sexuality. If only we had a bigger budget. If we had those things THEN EVERYTHING WOULD BE DIFFERENT! Ok, I understand that buildings, demographics, budgets, etc. can have an effect on the life of the church. I also know that folks are out there working very hard to grow so I would never want to belittle all of the effort. But this attitude that keeps cropping up time and time again communicates to me, and everyone else I suppose, that the Episcopal Church simply cannot grow. There are too many things working against us. Let's just be who we are and nothing more. Let's just ride it out and let the chips fall where they may. Let's continue to be ok with a denomination that averages less than 70 people on Sundays in its over 7,000 congregations across the country because, after all, the economy's just not what it should be. We can't help it, it's really not our fault. Woe is me.
Here's what really gets to me. I think, no let me change that, I KNOW that we have in many respects forgotten just who we are. So let me refresh our memories. Episcopalians believe that Jesus Christ is fully present at the altar of our churches. Fully. Really. Without going into a diatribe on the theology of the Eucharist, suffice it to say that to come to the altar of an Episcopal Church means an encounter with God. And what happens when you encounter God? I'll let you answer that for yourself. Check this out now, ok? It doesn't matter what your demographics look like. Your budget doesn't matter. Whether you've got 300 on Sundays or 30, Jesus Christ is present at the altar. Here's another amazing fact. It doesn't matter if you've been divorced. It doesn't matter if your a lifelong Episcopalian or a lifelong Southern Baptist. Rich or poor, gay or straight, black, white, or brown. Democrat or Republican. If you're baptized them come on up to the table and encounter the Holy. What else, might I ask, does your church need?
Let's do this. Let's seriously start inviting people to this table and solve this "problem". Really, I'm being totally serious about this. When the invitee asks why they should come, let's be unafraid to tell them why. And if they give you a funny look when you say that "Jesus Christ is fully present" at the table then just tell them to come and see. After all Episcopal Church, that is what we believe. Clergy, you don't need a 6-week seminar to get your people to do this. You don't need to call committee meetings. You don't need an evangelism team. Tell them, urge them, to invite. Just invite. I don't care how, just invite. I can tell you it works. I am blessed to serve in a congregation that understands this fully. And it is growing...quickly. If we invite them then they just might come. Eat at an amazing restaurant and you will let everyone know all about it. Feel the same about your church. After all, the food offered there is the stuff of miracles. And if they balk at your invitation or treat you differently now because you're the "religious one" in the crowd then shake the dust of your feet. I think they'll appreciate the invitation more than anything else. I mean, think about what you're offering them. If this "strategy" doesn't seem to be working right away then just keep inviting. Never stop. Have a sense of desperation about it because people need what God is serving up at our altar. Invite. It'll do more than a $10,000.00 advertising budget or big fancy website ever could.
Grow or die. That is the choice before us. That's not being overly dramatic, that's a fact. I think I read somewhere that, centuries ago, when the church was under horrific persecution and was forced, literally, to go underground, that it grew like it had never grown before. I don't suppose that underground tunnels qualified as "good demographics". I wonder what their budget was? Thing is, they never forgot that the God they worshipped was a God of miracles and transformation. They invited people to go underground with them. People came. Even though they were risking their lives they came. When they came they encountered the Holy in the midst of all that persecution. And the church grew. The Body of Christ grew. Miracle, no?
Don't worry so much about what we don't have, think about what we do have. We have Jesus Christ, "God with us", right there at our altar. Grow or die. What do you chose? I'm going with grow. Join me?
And if you're reading this and searching for a church...well...Google "Episcopal Church" in your area and check it out for yourself. I'm sure you'll find a home.