But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.
I have had the privileged of attending two churches. One I grew up in, and the other I’ve attended for about a year. I had a homework assignment to attend multiple church services. One was a mega-church. The church I grew up in has about 47 people.
The Church That Didn’t Grow
In the past 5 years, we’ve lost multiple people. The AVERAGE age of the church is 70.
I’ve attended this church for 20 years. Aside from people’s hair color changing, nothing else has. We purchased a high-tech keyboard when the old organ died. We use two sounds out of the NUMEROUS that are available. We’ve never used the drums or the auto-accompaniment. The aged organist was supposed to take lessons but never did. We use it as a piano, and an organ to play traditional hymns.
The Pastor went to a conference about 10 years ago, and suddenly there was sense of urgency to make sure we were not open to being sued. All the Sunday school teachers who had been in place for years now had to fill out background check information. It wasn’t a big deal, and didn’t start any issues.
The youth group still went on field trips, but they had to stick to an EXACT itinerary. If you wanted to stop for ice cream on the way back to the church from the hay ride, you couldn’t. There was no room for the holy spirit to lead. I understand the concept of keeping kids safe, but the problem I started to see was the church was beginning to live in fear.
We had some new people start attending, but we had a few divorces and families that left. When the roof needed fixed, two families in the church offered to fix it. When the job was awarded to the first family, the second family (along with half our youth group’s children) left the church.
We created a great event that brought in a lot of people. We had a cruise in, and a community of car enthusiast would meet every week at the church. We cooked hamburgers and hot dogs and the sales of those brought in a decent amount of revenue. This was great as the congregation was getting older, and a large portion of the congregation went south for the Winters (taking a large amount of the offering with it). There was no way to contribute online. After all, people might steal your credit card if you use it on the Internet. Fear was taking a strong hold.
The other thing is we noticed our aging congregation and their age became an issue. We couldn’t have events at night as they didn’t like to drive at night. We couldn’t have events geared toward younger people, as it would alienate them. In the winter we couldn’t have any activities due to the Ohio winters.
I had been asked to brainstorm ideas to attract younger people into the church. The interesting thing was every thing I suggested was turned down. Most of the time it was due to fear, but many times it was the age of the congregation. My favorite is we have a Wal Mart less than 10 blocks away. We’re talking a two minute car drive. I thought, “We need to find people who are at least awake on Sunday.” The idea was to have one person go with a GIANT “FREE HUGS” sign. Another person would film the whole process. If someone took up our offer of a free hug and asked, “What is this all about?” We would hand them a map, state who were were and where we came from, and politely invite them to church.” No large pressure pitch.
When I pitched the idea, I was told we would be sued. When I said, “Great, PLEASE throw me in jail.” They thought I was off my rocker. I said, “Call every local TV station and make sure we are on the news.” They didn’t get it. I eventually got frustrated and said, “You people will only follow Jesus to the end of the driveway.” It was a little harsh, but it was true.
When I suggested we have small groups in people’s houses to build the intimacy and friendships outside the church, I was told small groups are havens of gossip. F E A R. If we had properly trained leaders to control these meetings it would not be an issue.
They wanted me to bring in new people doing the exact same thing we ad been doing for 20 years (that had NOT lead to any new members). The only way the church is surviving, is due to people leaving the church large sums of money when they die (which they are on a regular basis). We are running out of people. We are not bringing in any new members, and if things keep going the way they are going the church will eventually die along with the last of its members.
The church’s website was never promoted. The thought being the congregation was too old and didn’t even own a computer. They didn’t realize that these grandparents could introduce their grandchildren to the church via the web. It was an address at the top of the bulletin, but nothing more. When I did a sermon that spoke about Facebook and iPods, I was pulled aside and told I needed to stay focused on my audience (Even though I explained what all these things were). Again, I was to bring in young people doing the exact thing that hadn’t worked the last 20 years.
When I started suggesting we cut salaries, they quit asking for my suggestions. When I stated we needed to ask the aged organist to retire as she could no playing anything that didn’t sound like a death durge, the leaders new it was the right call, but couldn’t execute the hard decision. Now visitors are subjected to tolerate our music until the pastor finally delivers a message.
The Church That Was Growing
The church I visited was LOUD. It had lights. They were singing praise music. Was the audience all young people? No. The teenagers have their own service. This was the “old people” and I was greeted by an elderly usher. His warmth was infectious.
Then I saw something that I had not seen in any of the other churches I had observed. When the pastor started his lesson (not a sermon) people took out their bibles and a NOTEPAD. It looked like my college lectures. People were THIRSTY for the word. They knew that they would go back later and investigate this some more.
When they announced it was time to take the offering, people CHEERED. This church had grown over the years, and the building was previously a plant for the Hoover Vacuum cleaner company. It’s mammoth.
At the end of church I always had learned something I could apply to my life. The lesson was brought to me in an informal presentation. Sure they put the scripture on giant screens, but there was humor. The pastor spoke like I spoke. There was nothing crazy like swearing, but it was casual. It made me feel at ease. It was more of a conversation than a sermon. The congregation would shout “Amen!” and clap. “Go on!” I heard the woman behind me shout out one week.
Congregation was mixed races of all shapes and sizes. We didn’t care about your race, or your clothing. As the pastor once said, “You know Jesus never owned a suit.”
The Church That Wasn’t Growing
The church that wasn’t growing had people in their parking lot every week. They were afraid to come on too strong for FEAR of driving people away. Consequently, they might’ve put out a pamphlet or two. They always invited people, but any kind of talk of Jesus was invisible. It was a great fund raiser, but spiritually over the 5 years of the cruise in, the church gained two people.
Meanwhile the youth group had eliminated any kind of fun, and all of the young people had quit attending. Many of their parents had quit attending and the writing was on the wall. Consequently, activities focused on one thing. Not reaching the lost, or servicing the community. It focused on raising money. We sent jars home for people to collect change.
There was one idea to open a thrift store. Part of it was to GIVE TO THE COMMUNITY clothes for children. Give out hats and coats. It was at this time that the bed bug scares came into play. Taking in used clothing might’ve meant taking in bed bugs. The once great community outreach program that showed Christ’s love was reduced to an under-grown indoor garage sale. It lasted about a year before we realized that the only people that were buying things were our own people.
The only thing sustaining this church is that the congregation keeps losing members to natural causes, and these people leave thousands to the church.
The Church That Was Growing
The larger church believed that Christ would provide. They knew that when they gave EXTRA to help pay down the HUGE debt of the new building that Christ would provide for us. Then on top of that, we learned that the local sheriff’s staff had outdated bullet proof vests. These people direct traffic at the end of service. Vests are expensive ($500 each). We found out that many people didn’t even have a vest. We wanted to show the community we cared. We wanted to show God’s love. We didn’t ask for them to attend a service to come pick them up. We raised money. We bought the vests. We said, “We care about you – here’s the proof,” and dropped off the vests.
We recently had a fund raiser where people could buy stuffed toys for the local children’s cancer ward.
We start planning for Easter months before it arrives. The whole church wore a red wrist band that said “ONE” on it. We all were to invite ONE person to church. We had a part of the service where we all wrote down the name and put it in a box and we prayed over it. That Easter we set a record. We didn’t worry about the price of the marketing material, and the wrist bands. We know God doesn’t lie and he said if you take care of me I will take care of you. We are not afraid.
The church focuses HEAVILY on its youth. It understand that this is the church of tomorrow. The old and young work together in different activities like the choir, book store and cafeteria. We do occasionally hold fund raiser for different programs, but those are less than the community outreach programs.
The church’s website has all the activities, small groups information, and a way to donate online.
Mentioned on This Show
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