In a recent conversation about growing churches and ministries I realized something important: I am done trying to grow churches. I was a rather startled at this revelation because I entered into the ministry to just that. I wanted to plant and grow churches. What I realized as being important in the conversation i was having wasn't the latest in techniques to put bottoms in pew and money in the plate. It is not about business plans to co-ordinate activities nor teach what I would consider to be slop and foam, teaching only the nice and easy things from the pulpit while neglecting the harder things that in the end, can be life altering both for the individual and for the community. My job as a parish priest is not to be the friend professional visitor to get people to come and to pay though this is often thought of as my role by some in the Church. The mission of the Church is often thought of as filling the pews and filling the plates so that we can meet our budgets. And when we fail to do so, we think of congregations and the clergy involved as failures for not having done so. Thus, I am done with trying to “grow the Church”.
The Church by its very nature, is built to grow if it. It must continue to be what it always has been: a community who will participate in the apostolic teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of Bread and in the Prayers. The Church is a community who lives to provide mercy for those who need it while in the midst of seeking grace for themselves. If you want to talk about building a community of mercy and of grace, which is something I want to do. I would join you in such a work.
I want to be a part of a Church that is not going to be fearful of proclaiming the risen Lord Jesus Christ. I want to be in a community who is not worried about being told “You’re nuts. I glad that you are happy and I wished I had what you seem to have because it makes you happy. But I cannot join you because you are nuts and I cannot be that.” I want to hear from the pulpit not the sermon I would like to hear for today but the sermon I will need to be ready for the Day of Christ Jesus. I want to be in a community where there is courage to speak the things of God to the people of God; for the clergy to break open the scriptures and feed the hungry and give drink to the thirst that they might truly live on more than bread and water.
The Church by its very nature is a community of discipleship. Listening, doing (obedient to the missio Dei) learning and teaching each other along the way, practicing the presence of Christ among us, so that we learn to serve to quell the desire to be served. We need to have hearts and minds that are taught by Christ on the road so that our hearts burn within us and we learn to recognize Christ wherever we are and in whatever we do. We all need to learn to be followers first and then servant leaders second. We cannot say that we are leaders until we have been seen and known as followers of him in the wider community. Or as the Rev. Canon Michael Green once observed, “The Church has been quicker to put on the robes of the ruler, than the towel of a servant.”
I want to be a part of a Church that is going to be more ready to love the unlovable, be compassionate to those who need mercy, and give stability to steady those who are in need of support in their daily life I want to be a part of a community working to be the people that God has called them to be recognizing that he who has begun a good work in and through us will bring it to completion on the Day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1.6). I want to be in a Christian community that will seek, see and serve the least, the last and the lost of each community where the Church lives its life. And I want to be a part of a Church that encourages all of its members to give all that they have been given and to use all the gifts and talents that have been bestowed upon them by God. I would love to be a part of a community that knows what it means to be not only a cheerful giver; I would what that church to be hilarious givers.
What do you think of when you hear the phrase “Grow the Church”? Most people when this phrase is used, want a strategy or a program and someone else to fulfill those goals and objectives. Many want want the church to be full on Sundays like they used to be so that we can keep up the appearances of the building, the structures both physical and human, and the finances in order to keep something of what used to be in the ceaseless cycles of change in every other part of human society. If this is want we really want, do we want to grow the Church?
Growing the Church is not about maintaining structures budgets or doctrine. True growth comes in building meaningful relationships that can endure based on a common unity with God and the divine mission. Therefore I invite you to come and follow your clergy, to follow them as they follow Christ. I invite you to come and reshape the life of the local Church that you might participate in the mission that God gives to all of us and find that you know both God and fellow parishioners and find that the Church does grow after all because grow is its very nature.