It is so predictable when I ask the question in most of our churches, “ What do you see as your greatest concern?” Far more often than not it is, “We need young families.” As I then ask “Why?”, I get this, “Well duh” look. Can’t you see it is obvious, we need young families, our congregation is aging and somehow no matter what we do young families just don’t stay with us. If this keeps up, who will sit on the pews and who will pay the bills?
Fair questions, albeit, selfish ones though. What we are saying is that the real concern is “our” church and it’s future. There are two huge assumptions at play here. One, the assumption that “our” church ought to keep repeating the generation cycle over and over so that it will not disappear. The other assumption is that keeping our church “going” is God’s first priority for us.
Let me clarify. It is very clear that the church as we see it being birthed in Acts was always undergoing a dynamic shift to be what God needed it to be at the time. The base function is to equip saints to make disciples. But what that looks like in daily practice from Acts 2 to 28 is quite fluid. Your fully staffed children’s ministry of 20 years ago may not be God’s best plan for you right now. The first point of planning and strategic moves for any church ought always be, “What is God saying now?”
Secondly, when we are acting to fill the gaps of who we “need” we have shifted from Gospel extension to church preservation. I say instead of looking in your sanctuary to see the gaps and determine who you need, look outside your sanctuary and allow God to show you who needs you. When we focus on who we need we are in the customer service business, when we focus on who needs us, we are servants. Trust me, you will not have to look very hard to find some folks very near you who need you. When we stop “stepping over” people to get to the ones we want, we will discover a harvest of vulnerable people who are very much in need of a living relationship with Jesus. I don’t think I am too far off when I say most of us look right past 100’s of people looking for the “ones we need”.
No wonder we are not seeing God’s hand of harvesting. Why would He even want to put folks in our care if we didn’t really care about them, we just care that we make sure we are here to marry our grandchildren and bury us? I am not being critical (too much I hope) but when I hear people talk about how much they love young people and need a youth minister and then you couldn’t find one of them sitting with them in church or inviting them into their homes to share the stories of how God has worked in their life, I don’t buy it. I think they love what young people can do for their church. Sorry, but we don’t have to say the truth out loud for it to be heard in revealing what our true goals are.
Can I challenge you in your next deacons, elders, Sunday School “sharing” session, start a conversation about how much you know about who lives near you and what they really need from your church.