Over-missioned

In the pursuit of effective growth, a large portion of the church learned about mission statements. We valued the wisdom of business gurus who said every organization needed a mission. The best way to get a mission was to form a mission statement.

Of course, the church has a mission. Jesus gave it to us.

But we set out to craft our personalized statements. Several years ago, I did some Internet exploring of church mission statements. I looked at over two hundred congregations from around the U.S. and from various Christian denominations. There were three things that stood out to me.

First, there was a boundary that most churches found themselves. The majority of churches said something about loving God and loving people. They tend to include the word disciple or some sense of following Jesus.

My second observation was a lot of churches get too wordy. We learned about mission statements and then tried to fit everything that sounded churchy into one sentence. Apparently, a lot of churches want to do a lot of things.

Finally, I noticed that many churches have several mission statements. There’s one for the church. The youth group has one. The older adult ministry has a separate mission, as does the women’s ministry and each committee of every possible event.

It feels like our adaptation of the business model needs some tweaking. If you try to do too much, nothing tends to get done. And if everyone is doing their own thing, is it any wonder why churches aren’t focused on what should be our first priority?

In today’s Bible passage, John writes to little children, fathers and young people. I read that to include all people of the church. Little children could be children and/or those who are young in faith. Fathers are those people who have walked with Jesus for a long time. Young people could be those who aren’t quite new to faith but also aren’t seen as the old, wise followers either.

This passage made me think about church mission statements because John’s purpose seems threefold: Know God; know God’s forgiveness; walk in God’s victory.

To me, it comes down to one mission. That is to know God. Depending on where we are in our walk with God, what we need to know about God might be different. But there is still one thing driving our faith.

If it’s hard to determine what’s the one thing driving our faith and ministry today, that’s telling. It could be we’re over-missioned.

There’s your work for this week.

Think about your church. How many mini-missions are running around? Spoken, written or assumed? What’s the one thing your church says they want to do? Do your activities and conversations prove that’s the one thing that matters most? Oh, and does what your church prioritize match what Jesus commissioned us to do?

Stay blessed…john

We have to start somewhere

A report came out this week that stirred a lot of conversation. It’s a Gallup study related to church membership in the United States. For decades, church membership has declined. Last year, according to the report, 47% of U.S. adults belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque. This is the first time that figure has been below fifty percent.

If you haven’t read these reports before, this might come as a shock. It sounds like the sky is falling. So, let me offer you a word of assurance: God’s church will never die. There is always a movement of the Spirit.

One of the joys I have is to read testimonies from church leaders in other nations. Churches in other parts of the world are reawakening to the Spirit’s power. More and more people are coming to know Christ as Lord.

There are a lot of things we can say about our decline. That’s part of what our daily devotional addresses. I’m convinced our decline is the fruit of consumerism and poor discipleship. Those two things have manifested themselves in ways that have wounded the biblical sense of Christian community and what it means to walk as Jesus walked.

I’ve read about church decline almost ever since I first joined a church. Early on I learned that my church, The United Methodist Church, has declined in membership every year since its creation in 1968. This is nothing new.

When I reflect on our situation, I like to think of the word crucible. A crucible is “a situation of severe trial…leading to the creation of something new.” And maybe I’m a cup half-full kind of person, but when I hear that church membership is less than 50%, I hear ministry opportunity. There is a ripe mission field.

So what do we do?

Over the years, I’ve listened to ministry experts who have enlightened us to the “one thing” to do to grow our churches. Every expert has their own one thing. There are a lot of experts, which means there are a lot of one things. Who knows, you may think there’s one thing your church needs to do to change the tide of decline.

There is no one thing, but we have to start somewhere.

People have told me to consider being a church planter, someone who starts churches. So far I have decided that isn’t my calling. While I am intrigued by the idea and haven’t written it off completely, my sense is I belong in churches that need to learn to develop a divine imagination. I would love to be a part of a new thing God is doing in a new congregation. But there’s a blessing in watching a new thing happen in an already-established church.

Again, there is no one thing to do to reverse decline. Just because you sing a different type of song in worship doesn’t mean everyone will flock to your church. Update your church’s website and get on social media and people will still ignore you.

But I know that I know that I know, the best place to start is in prayer together. When the disciples faced threats in Acts 4, they responded in corporate prayer. As they prayed, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and a boldness to speak the word of God overcame them.

As we pray, God will show us what to do next. So, let’s not decide what one thing we need to do now if we haven’t prayed together. Let’s pray for a divine imagination to see what God wants us to do and in what ways we can speak the word of God with boldness to more than 50% of the U.S. population.

Stay blessed…john