This blog is to add “One More Thing” or two to Sunday’s message. You can’t always say everything in a message, so the blog is designed to expand on the message. If you weren’t in worship, you can watch the message on Middletown UMC’s Facebook page or listen to it on our website at middletownumc.org.
We live in a world where the church is no longer the center of the community. This situation is our greatest challenge to reaching people with the love of Christ. A time existed not too long ago when it was much easier to get people to be a part of the church. Tod Bolsinger told of a conversation with a church member in Alabama. The man told Bolsinger that not too many years ago they didn’t have to worry about worship attendance, because if you weren’t in worship you knew your boss would ask you on Monday morning where you were. Today involvement in church is not at the top of most people’s priority list. However, that doesn’t mean God is any less relevant.
We live in a world with four types of people as they relate to the church. First, people will be moving into our community looking for a church home. If they visit with us, there is a good chance they will stay. Second, there are those who have, for whatever reason, become dissatisfied with their current church. If they visit with us, there is a good chance they will stay. Since worship attendance in North America has been declining for the last fifty years, these two groups will be getting smaller and smaller. The third group is those people who have given up on church. They may have been hurt by the church or feel the church is not relevant, or for a whole host of other reasons they have left the church. Most of these people have given up on the church, but they haven’t given up on God. The final group is those people who have never been involved in the life of the church or if they have it has been sparse. These two groups will be more difficult to reach and will take a different approach to ministry than the church is offering today. Unlike the first two groups, the last two are increasing in numbers. These are the ones when asked about religious affiliation on a survey will mark “none.” They have been labeled as the “nones.”
We live in a unique time in the life of the Church. We are at one of those 500-year intervals when the Church is going to see a dramatic shift. We have a choice to approach the future with fear and dread or with anticipation and excitement. I choose to approach the future with anticipation and excitement. It is exciting to be living in a time in history when God is going to do something new in the Church. We have the opportunity shape the future of the Church if we have the courage to follow where God is leading.
Congregations will need to offer two parallel tracks of ministry in order to reach people in all four groups I described earlier. One track will be to continue to do what we are doing now. Current forms of ministry are still speaking to a large number of people. This will be the easier part of ministry now and in the future. The second track will be ministries that will reach the people in those last two groups. This will be much more difficult. Ministry in this track will require an abundance of experiments most of which will fail. We will learn from those failures and try again until we find a way of successfully sharing the love of Christ. One thing is for sure, the ministry in the second track will not be centered around having people come into our building. Those ministries will begin with relationships where people live, work, shop, and play. These ministries will require a plenty of patience.
We may despair with the obstacles before us, but we serve a God who knows no obstacles. May we see opportunities and not obstacles as we journey with God into an exciting future for the Church. God is about to do a new thing and I want to be a part of it.