Missing Members

12″What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?

13″If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray.

14″So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.

-Matthew 18:12-14 NAS

My wife and I have been members of at least one church at all times for the past 17 years. Our attendance and our involvement has varied some, but I don’t think we ever missed long enough to earn the term “unchurched.” I’m glad for that, but I know that a major reason for our regular attendance is that we’ve always lived in a town where someone knows us.

The first place we lived was near her parents, and my wife Amy was a member at the Catholic church where we were married. Now we live in the same town where I graduated from high school, and I have become thoroughly obligated to attend the church where I was confirmed. We had a brief window of opportunity when we first moved back to skip out on church, but it was closed pretty quickly by friends and family who simply insisted.

Before too long, I found myself teaching an adult Sunday school class (can we come up with a better name than Sunday school, it sounds so felt-panel and koolaid?) and then a pastor informed me that I may well be teaching this class forever, so now I’m pretty much locked in.

The fact that I am connected to this area is a big part of why I’m expected to attend. But that’s rare in this area. We have lots of transplants — people who come from all over, who find it easy to attend occasionally, or not at all. We have had people who have joined our church one Sunday, and a year later qualify as unchurched. A year after that and we remove them from the membership roll.

We know what we should do about this, and we try. Small groups, phone calls, not overwhelming new members, but making sure they know what’s expected. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think we do have to be more intentional, and I think a good portion of that responsibility lies on the pastor’s shoulders, because that is who people go to when they are thinking of joining the church, even if the reasons for joining have more to do with the congregation.

One of our pastors mentioned one time that he occasionally lost sleep over members who quit. We should all be more concerned about the missing members. My mother is one of the ones who no longer attends. I remember her making me go when I was under 18. She quit coming when our previous pastor offended some friends of hers. Her friends have been back for over three years. Now she’s waiting on a new pastor. I don’t expect to see her in July. Even though she has friends and family at the church, it’s not enough to combat the things she’d rather do on Sunday morning.

And I suppose that’s what I have to remember the most. Despite all our planning, our intentional work, members still have a choice. We can’t make them come, and once they come, we can’t make them be disciples (though my tendency towards legalism says we should try a little harder). When all else fails, we have to turn to God and ask that His will be done. Help us find the missing sheep, Lord, and help them to rejoin the flock.

My Perfect Church

This entry is heavily inspired by an article in Relevant Magazine. I don’t know much about the magazine, but the article’s worth reading if only for the acknowledgment of similar frustrations.

Of course, I’m not in the same age bracket as the author, but there are some things on his top ten list that I’d love to see. But instead, I’m going to work on a list of 10 things I like about my church.

1. When we decided to start a food program, there was no vote, no forms to fill out, just people who showed up and worked.

2. Members of our church started a thrift store. The money they make goes to help people who can’t pay their utility bills, or don’t have enough food. When they decided they needed a bigger building to do this work, the church voted unanimously in favor of spending the money. They’ve been doing this for more than 10 years.

3. A man who once spent many of his nights living under a nearby bridge now has a home in his name, and a life that he enjoys. This is entirely due to the grace of God and the people whom he worked through in our church.

4. There are many Sundays each year when three generations of several different families are present for worship.

5. Many of our members have had their weddings in our sanctuary, and some have had their funerals there as well. Funerals in a church sanctuary somehow seem so much more reassuring, perhaps because we don’t gather there ONLY in times of death.

Ok, so that’s 5. This might be a good blog tag sort of thing. Pass it on.

Church signs.

A local church has my favorite church sign ever. All they post is occasional meetings and some scripture. Perfect.

Is anyone really brought to church by these signs? What is their purpose? This one almost caused me to have an aneurysm induced traffic accident this morning:

Salvation so easy a cave man can do it.

AAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

I can’t even approach the number of ways in which this is wrong. If you’ve got some of your own disturbing church signs, put them here, or better yet, come on over to Theologeeks and add them there.

Techgnostics


New words are interesting to me. Ginormous is in the dictionary now (though blogger spellcheck doesn’t like it, nor the word spellcheck). When I read a comment by Brian Volck at Ekklesia, he used the hyphenation techno-gnosticism. I searched techgnosticism and found lots of links, so now I have a new word for a subject which is getting discussed a lot lately.

It’s easy to see why. This new “medium” which is created and manipulated each day leads to some very obvious disconnects between mind and body. There are plenty of stories about how much more blurred the lines between the worlds of cyberspace and meatspace are becoming.

One of the articles Brian directs us to is the story of a man who plays the online game Second Life to such a degree that it could easily be said that it has become his primary life. But he’s not the only one who is blurring the lines between the real and the hyperreal. IBM employees are now planning a strike in Second Life. Lawsuits are being started over land in Second Life. And, of course, there are new church plants in SL.

If we could just say “it’s one game, a fad, not a trend” then we’d probably have little to discuss, but it’s not. SL is just the easiest thing to point to. Myspace, youtube, facebook, all are aspects of this new world that seems to be growing. There are some who even say there is about a 20% chance we’re living in the matrix already.

I’m not saying it’s all bad or that we should all unplug our computers or stop reading blogs, but we should talk about how we’re affected by the cyberworld, and we should be wary of the ways in which we are separated from the temple of the Holy Spirit when we enter this other world.

The children are not our future.


I haven’t read this book, but I read an online interview with the author on Globe and Mail, and it reminded me of some points I’ve heard made by other people.

My blog title was provided by a pastor friend who tries to help people understand that our children are here now, have a role in the church and should not be put away for later use.

He provides an example of a church that wanted to start a “youth group” and asked a professional to come and evaluate the needs of the local youth and determine what a youth group might look like for this congregation.

The professional found that in this small church, the three current youth had roles in the choir, church council and missions work. The professional urged the congregation to not worry about a youth group, but to keep doing more of what they were already providing.

I heard a “car talk” type show the other day in which the host mentioned that he had rebuilt an engine, with some help, at the age of 15. We often don’t expect much of our youth, and it’s time we realize that we should not wait for them to grow up before we ask them to participate.

In the Globe and Mail article I referred to, one person does raise a good point:

Why does everybody need to squeeze every last ounce of productivity out of their lives? We are moving so close to a society where you are judged purely by how much money you make and how many hours you can put in at work during a week that it seems no one is smelling the clich├ęd roses along the road to death.

Who cares if a teenager can work in an office just as well as an adult? They have plenty of time to do that when they are an adult; no need to go back to the ways of the industrial revolution.

Epstein answers :

Many young people would like the opportunity to start a business, own property, compete against adults, make their own medical decisions, live on their own, drink alcohol (responsibly) – or even to retire to a desert island!

But over the last century, society has come to restrict all young people – based simply on age, and no matter how motivated or competent they may be – so that they have virtually no meaningful options whatsoever. . .

The key is to allow young people to enter the adult world as soon as they are ready.

I’m not sure that most adults or youth know when they’re ready to enter adulthood. As a 40 year old male, I am still stunned when I realize that my peers are doctors, teachers and pastors, but I think the church can learn from what Epstein and others are saying about youth in the culture at large.

Our youth can take part in the liturgy; not just as acolytes or ushers or whatever small task we think they won’t mess up, but as readers, worship leaders, choir members and, should they be called, preachers. Having a once a year “youth Sunday” may be a fun way for the congregation to see the youth dress up one Sunday out of the year, but we should help our youth find their way to Christ every Sunday.

That doesn’t mean that I’m calling for a strong “works” checklist that will help youth earn their way into heaven, but I do think the apprenticeship of our youth should be a focus of the church. In a fine blog post about fishing, Kevin Baker mentions how he “grew up learning to throw a net at the feet of my Uncle Roy.” How many of our youth get to see that kind of work in action? Let’s start with worship and see where the Spirit can take us together.

Things that go well.


I studied English in school and spent a lot of time critiquing and breaking things down to see how they worked. My nature has included too much of seeing what’s wrong with things, and in combination with my critical nature, the two have not always been helpful.

So I need to take time to notice things that are going well, and one of the things that goes well at our church is the Angel Food Ministry. You can watch the youtube clip to see a little about what it is, though the video comes from the main program, not specifically the church I live in.

We started doing Angel Food more than a year ago, and I have to say that the members of the church just said “sounds like something God would have us do.” and jumped on board.

This month, Saturday the 25th to be exact, we’ll have about 50 households come through our church and for $28 they’ll overfill a ream of paper sized box with good food. Some of these people will be using food stamps to make their purchase, some will be coming because they just want to save money, and a few will be coming because we are giving them a box to help them get through difficult times.

Now, if you dig very deep, you’ll find some prosperity gospel folks attached to Angel Food, and of course, if you want me to critique that, I can. But I can’t see any problem with a church participating in what is basically a great big food co-op.

I have had people cry from receiving their Angel Food boxes, though generally it’s not for a box that fed them, but for a box that allowed them to feed others. I think specifically of some people who take the boxes to their elderly parents who live on a very fixed income.

Lots of churches participate in Angel Food. It’s a growing thing. At our church, which has a regular attendance of about 120, we have enough volunteers each month to take orders, make labels and pass out food. Thanks be to God for helping us to help others.

Theologeeks-patience

I’m excited. After starting the Theologeeks forum last week, I now have 2 new posting members. I know, that sounds a little pathetic in the internet world, but it’s good news to me. I also have 2 other members who haven’t yet posted.

I teach an adult Sunday school class that averages about 12 people each Sunday. At the UMC church I’m part of, that’s a big class. And some days, we have almost 20 people, and then we’re the largest. If you figure in the number of children we bring when we’re present, we’re about 1/3 of the Sunday school attendance.

But this class took a LONG time to form. I’ve been back at this church for about 10 years. I would say the first three years were formative in terms of the class. I was not teaching right away, merely attending a class that would sometimes consist of me and the teacher. I consented to sharing teaching duties and after time, took over sole responsibility.

I have had Sundays during which I am the only person there. I would prepare a lesson, imagine questions that might arise, and find that I had an extra week to prepare some more.

But people came, people welcomed one another, and people worked together. This is the class that I came to with information about a food program. Not enough information, but enough that they said “Sure, let’s try it.” Now we serve over 50 people a month.

I don’t know what God’s time looks like, with the whole “a thousand years are like a day” but I know that we are impatient. I know that if all it takes is 40 days to make a purpose driven life, then that purpose may not be all that great. We are slow forming things, and it takes time and God’s patience to shape us.

So I’m encouraged by the Theologeeks forum. It got a mention at the Methoblog which resulted in Theologeeks finally being Googleable. The only previous result was a dead page, but now all other results eventually lead to the forums.

I hope other bloggers and internet readers will come and discuss things, and if they don’t come to Theologeeks, I hope they tell me where they are discussing these things. The blog world seems to often be about lots of people talking to one another, with very little potential for dialog. I’d like more opportunities for us to share with each other.

reviewing blogs

Sometimes I get started on lists of blogs and before you know it I can’t even remember where I started. This weekend I came across two lists that were useful. They’re from way back in March, which makes them ancient in internet terms, but very useful.

10 Ways to Draw Me to your Church

1o Ways to Keep Me from Discovering your Church

The other thing I did this weekend is finalized my plans to go to the Ekklesia Project gathering in Chicago. This will be my third year and I think I look forward to each gathering more than the next. The gathering this year will look at the work of the congregational formation initiative, which seems to be going well. I look forward to hearing more about how we can help our congregations live life fully in the Kingdom of God.