In his book, For a New Generation, Lee Kircher tells of a Pittsburgh steelworker laid off due to the closing of most of the city’s steel mills. When Kircher asked him what he intended to do for a living the thirty-something ex-steelworker replied, “I am not changing careers. My grandfather was a steelworker, my father was a steelworker, and I am a steelworker. I’m waiting for things to come back around.”
This ostrich-like mindset insists “I’ll just bury my head, ignore reality, and wait for things to come back to the way they were” is an attitude that is too often prevalent in the church. It is entirely too easy to ignore declining numbers, increased financial burdens, and aging and apathetic congregations.
As my years increase I too find it comfortable to look back at the glory days when church attendance was an accepted reality. In my neighborhood, a person who didn’t attend church on a somewhat regular basis was an anomaly; now the opposite is true. Those of us who make worship a regular part of our life are the exception. Depending on which statistics you read Americans participating in worship on a regular basis may be as low as 20% (churchleaders.com).
It is tempting to bemoan the state of the church and hope, with the unemployed steelworker, that “things will come back around.” Let’s be honest, it ain’t gonna happen just because we wish it.
The church can be revitalized!!! People can be attracted to our ministries and our pews can be full. Small groups can be the locus of a renewed ministry that invites, welcomes, and encourages new persons in faith. The halls can once again ring with the joyous laughter of children and young adults.
We all give lip service to the need for revitalization, but we have to do more, much more, than merely talk about church renewal. We need first, to change the way we think about and do church. Yes, we need to get a new mindset. Just because a specific ministry was successful fifty, or even twenty years ago, doesn’t guarantee the same result today. Five years ago, we had an average Sunday school attendance of around 100, today it is 60. There is no value in asking “what happened?” The question is what changes do we make that will attract people to Sunday school, or alternatively, to small group ministries. Complaining about what we have lost is of no value at all.
This church is at a crossroads. We can continue to look back and wait for things to turn around, or we can change our mind and our attitude, be open to doing ministry in new and challenging ways. We are aging and graying. In ten years few of us will be able to sustain the level of activity that we now enjoy. It is time for significant, transforming change.
Isaiah has something to say about change: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (43:18-19a).
We are challenged to perceive the new things God is doing. Some changes will be uncomfortable. The music will be too loud and we won’t understand the lyrics. People may come to worship who don’t dress in a fashion that we deem appropriate. Youth ministry will not look the way it did thirty years ago. It is imperative that we recruit young families; our very existence is incumbent on this. Change is coming. Change is the new thing that God is doing.
With all my heart, I pray that you will embrace the new things God is doing. With all the passion that is in my being I pray that you will pray for the renewal of our church.
This is a good church. God is not finished with us. Please look forward in eager anticipation to the new things God is doing. The future is amazing in God’s plan.