Monday, May 10, 2021

What can we do to get our church going?

This is an interesting but confronting question.
There are so many assumptions and presumptions potentially implied, even if asked honestly and relatively innocently. I write this as a member of a small rural congregation in decline.

Firstly there is the assumption that a small and elderly church is clearly in need of a boost. And the opposite being that a large and diverse congregation with many young people present is necessarily healthy.

Is this a normal and safe assumption?

Are there examples of small churches being healthy and large ones being very unhealthy?

Do we always equate large and numerically successful as blessed by God (and doctrinally safe)?

Do good churches age, dwindle and then die never to be heard from again? Or do good  churches simply keep on going because God blesses "good" churches with perpetuity? (The fact that most of the geographic churches written to in the letters of the new testament no longer exist as congregations or denominations is interesting. It does not disqualify the letters.)

Does a denomination have to continue on perpetually to be proved as bone-fide (no pun intended)? Does the death of a congregation or a denomination prove its error or inadequacy?

Might God allow a whole movement to be wiped out by means of disaster, or simple ageing? Might he also allow relatively poor theologically based movements to thrive?

And what of a particular gathering in a particular building?

Does legitimate faith mean that a congregation must continue to thrive in a particular building?

Does the loss of congregation and an empty church building signify failure of the church, or the denomination, the community, or the truth of Christianity?

And does a new building and a growing congregation imply true teaching and true service of God?

And what actually grows a congregation in postmodern Australia?

The desirable answer is unconverted people coming to faith and then making Sunday worship at a church building with a particular congregation a regular habit.

But truly, in Australia, how much of that is the true reason for church growth?

What of christian people marrying and having children who carry on the faith as they grow up within a church? Sadly many church kids leave christian habits. Many families have few children, which is a western norm, somewhat dictated to by culture and economy(this is a whole topic in itself). And some couples choose not to have children at all.

And what of the many people who have a Christian heritage, some becoming more convinced of the importance of practicing their faith and then simply deciding to attend church? Is this conversion or confirmation?
 

And what of the simple movement of people of faith from one congregation to another?

Surely this is the major reason for changes in congregation size in Australia?

And whatever factors come into it, people of faith can be swayed to change congregation.
The reasons may include a change of geography for job opportunities. In smaller rural communities, children grow up and often leave permanently, for reasons of employment.

But other factors like style of worship, being child friendly, theology, inclusivity, exclusivity, etc may come into play.

Of course people become deeply hurt by perceived lack of love or failure in expected behaviours within a congregation. Scandals may alienate people as well as progressive or fundamental teaching. Changes in all of these things test the loyalty of a congregation. People do become hurt, and do express this through a cessation of attending or a move to a different congregation.

People also die. Sometimes they are even martyred.

But an important question is, who is a congregation or an individual actually loyal to?

The minister?
The other congregants?
The denomination?
The building?
The accumulated funds?

To God? 

Does that imply attendance at one specific building?

Have we ever asked the simple question as to why a particular individual attends a particular congregation, and especially, why they continue attending a particular congregation? The answers I have heard include "My parents were married here, my wife was buried here, my father built the pews, etc. While I'm alive I will never leave this building!

These are all interesting questions.

It is easy to visit an old, small congregation and pick out the problems, just like it is easy to push over an elderly person.

But being elderly and frail as a congregation does not logically equate with failure in Gods eyes. And pushing over an elderly person may be easy, but it certainly is not acceptable.

Jobs suffering (in the old testament) was not due to his moral failure.

Is it an important goal to keep a congregations numbers above a certain threshold? And what determines that threshold?

To whose advantage is that status quo?

Does a small and ageing congregation imply a failure in the witness of that congregation?

What of the effect of major denominational shifts in teaching? And of the continual change in ministers appointments? Forcing people to move on within 3-5 years even when things are going well?

Is it a fair assumption or expectation that a healthy congregation will thrive in spite of changes in leadership?

Is it notable that the most populous christian denomination has, until recently, kept its leader, once chosen, in place for life?

Yes, I am a member of a small rural congregation of the uniting church. Yes, I have become somewhat wounded at people coming to our congregation and implying that somehow the smallness of numbers and lack of children is our responsibility. Yes, I am saddened and distressed by the progressive theology our denomination embraces, testing the loyalty of people like myself to my local congregation and denomination.

As Christians, we all need to be be ready, even eager to share the reason for the hope that is in us. But let us not put burdens on each other that are not godly. (Like the Israelites being given quotas for bricks by the Egyptians)

Rather let us continue to meet and worship our wonderful God and ask him to direct our steps as individuals and congregations within our community.

And let us trust God, that he births, builds and maintains his church, and that the gates of hell will not prevail against her.












 

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