“The reason our churches are shrinking is because church has become just one option among a sea of options on Sunday mornings.”
“It used to be that everything was closed on Sundays. People didn’t have all these distractions keeping them from coming to church.”
“If we want to bring in young families, we need to have programs that meet their needs.”
“What programs can we create to meet the needs of the people in our community?”
“Why can’t we get more people to come to Sunday School? Or our mid-week studies?”
Questions. Anxieties. Worries. Fears.
At a denominational meeting in my region yesterday, I listened as our Classis president told us with concern that on a majority of annual reports, numbers of baptisms were down, as well as membership trends in general. In many churches and in many areas of the United States, worship attendance is at an all-time low, and the anxiety and pain that accompanies that reality is deeply felt in many churches.
And when there’s pain and difficulty and the realization that things are not how they are supposed to be, it can make us feel like we need to do something, like we need to do more, accomplish more, offer more things to people. We want to read more books, bring in more big name speakers, plan more activities, all so that we can boast to our communities, “We have just the thing you are looking for!”
We want to make what we have attractive enough that people will choose to come to church more regularly rather than go to a sports game, sleep in, or catch up on whatever TV shows are on the DVR.
But, what if the problem really isn’t our lack of programs for all age groups, or the competing opportunities in the community (like sports, school programs, etc)?
What if the problem isn’t that we have too few programs? What if adding more things, more activities, more things to keep us busy is the opposite of what we need to be doing.
What if what we’ve done is make the church a place to stay busy, rather than a place to be transformed?
My kids are reaching the age where more and more activities are offered to them. They are old enough to play sports, which means they could try soccer, baseball/softball, dance, karate, golf, 4-H, Girl/Cub Scouts, art classes, music lessons, cheerleading clinics, and community theater. We’ve tried to help them select just a few things to try so that they can have the experience of playing a team sport, or learning something new, but we’ve also been intentional to avoid overloading ourselves.
And even still, we’re exhausted. It seems that we’re always on the go, always busy. We’re always looking for a way we can cut back on what we’re doing because we know that the packed schedule, the never eating at the dinner table, the “oh no! I forgot I was supposed to ______!” is not good for anyone’s health or well-being.
I look around at the faces of tired friends, and I hear so many people say, “I wish we weren’t so busy.” And I’ve noticed a trend of people becoming more selective on what they agree to do out of a need to get back to healthier sleeping and eating schedules.
What if church was a place to go and lay our burdens down? What if church was a community of people who sat next to each other in the midst of our tough stuff and said, “Me, too,” in solidarity? What if church was a collection of strange and unlikely people who would otherwise have no reason to be together apart from the transforming work of God?
What if church didn’t feel like one more thing we had to do, but was the community we joined hands with as we rejoiced, and the people who cried with us in lament?
What if church wasn’t the building where all our busyness was housed, but was the place – the community – where we went to be healed from our busyness sickness?
What would our churches be like if all of our programs, studies, and smoke machines disappeared? What kind of people would be left? What would our worship look like?
What kind of people would be sent out into the world?
Who am I as I am sent out into the world?
Too often my prayer is, “Lord, help me to get my endless to-do list done.”
Jesus calls us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”