We know of a small-ish church, membership about 130; average attendance 40-ish. I know, with the pandemic that’s not too far off the norm. Fact is though, that’s not too far from where the attendance was running prior to the assault from Covid-19. The local church leadership was distressed. Few baptisms; few non-member guests. Spiritual impact on the community somewhere between zero and none. The record shows that ten years ago the membership was 174. You’ve noticed already those aren’t very healthy numbers. And, yes, we count numbers because every number has a name.
What to do? The Board decided to begin a “Healthy Church 101”. It would last a quarter, then be repeated. The goal was that over the two quarters we would have the majority of the leadership core of the church take the class. It would be good to have everyone exposed to the study, but we felt that having the leaders first would help get us started in the right direction.
We’re just finishing up the first of the two quarters and I wanted to share with you what we’ve learned. Or rather, what we’re learning.
First is that this is not a matter of discovering a grand new strategy. Spiritual warfare is only won with spiritual weapons. Every class session begins on its collective knees. Each class lasts an hour, and we spend at least a fourth of it praying. For the class members, for members in other adult classes, for those who are missing, for those among us who are not distressed by our anemic growth, for those in our community who need to fall in love with Jesus. And for our desperate need of Holy Spirit guidance. No surprises in that list. We don’t rush this; prayer is not preparation for the work; prayer is the work.
Driving the study each week is our conviction that we have a message to proclaim that no other group in our community is preaching. But before we can tell our story we have to earn the right to talk to them. And we earn that right by serving them. Here’s where we can pray for outside-the-box creativity. Next week we’re bringing a couple of civic leaders to meet with our class and tell us some of the needs in the community and ask their counsel about how we can help. Some 400 times in Scripture God urges His people to care for the hungry, the homeless, the widows, those in prison. In my Bible that’s about every three pages. I think that’s no accident.
Another maxim that drives us is this: The Kingdom advances among friends. In some of our churches we had developed social distancing to a fine art before the government ever began to insist on it.
Another area of study is those things we do that make guests uncomfortable. We call them “cringe factors.” In-house language is a classic example. If people speak our tongue they should not need a translator in our services.
We’re developing a syllabus for the class and we’re still working on the list of things we should be working on. If God has blessed you with a healthy, growing church, at the end of this blog you can send me a note of how you are seeing Him work and we’ll share it in an up-coming post. Strong, gospel-centric churches that God can use to help change His world. I believe He would be honored by that goal.
By Don Jacobsen (hope-heals.org)