State of the Church
As I think about the state of the church, my thoughts turn to sports; specifically football. In 2012 the San Francisco 49’ers were near the top of the NFL. While they did not get the win, the team competed in the Super Bowl that year. The year after that they just missed making it to the big game two years in a row. However, after that things went south. Between 2014-2015 seasons, the team lost thirteen starting players, as well as the coach who had led to them to victories. The 49’ers entered what sports teams call a building year. A building year is when a sport’s organization attempts to rebuild to a championship team by getting new talent and attempting to find a winning combination. Sports fans know that a building year means that championships are unlikely. However, a successful building year sets the team up so that the next season will be better. This was the case for the 49’ers, for several years the team rebuilt until they once again made it to the Super Bowl in 2020.
As I think about the state of North Judson United Methodist Church in 2021, I cannot help but think this is a building year. Across the country, regardless of denomination, most churches are reporting 20%-50% less in worship attendance. We find these national trends are in line with our local experience here as well.
As I think about the state of the church and what it looks like for us going forward, I think we face a choice. We can be frustrated that things are not like they were before the pandemic. We can fixate on the past and pine for what used to be, as those days get further and further behind us. Or we can acknowledge things are not quite where we want them, and we can do something about it. We can embrace the hard but necessary work of this being a building year. Instead of looking to the past with regret we can look to the future with hope. We can take intentional actions to make the state of our church stronger so that we are living into our vision to share God’s love to change lives and transform communities; so that we are accomplishing our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Looking forward to the next twelve months, there are four major emphases we are going to have as a church. These four pillars are hopefully going to be where our energy is focused and it is going to be our strategy for rebuilding. Three of these emphases were approved by the church council as our strategic ministry objectives. You can find the complete document HERE.
The first goal in our action plan is a fellowship goal. One of the areas of church life that was hardest hit by the pandemic was the community aspect. Church is not supposed to be a building that we come to out of obligation once a week, it is meant to be a community of believers that we are part of. Our goal is to intentionally provide opportunities and experiences that create a stronger sense of community. This has already begun. For instance, the United Methodist Women are meeting again, and the free meal will soon move back to being in-person. We are going to resume regular youth group meetings and we are going to bring back regular “Super Sunday” parties for children. We are also going to be trying some new ways to intentionally provide connection. Starting on August 14th, we will host a monthly church game night where we can gather around a table, play some games or cards, and connect with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
The second goal in our action plan is a Christian service goal. The goal is to have all church members connected and personally invested in a ministry of the church. As a local church we are to be the hands and feet of Christ in our community. Our vision is to transform communities through God’s love and our mission is to make disciples. We can only do that if we do more than talk about God’s love, we have to show the community God’s love through our actions. This is not something a couple of us do, it is something we are to all engage in. A large part of this goal is helping each and every member of the church to find their place. We have begun this process by increasing communication, with a monthly mission moment focused on our outreach ministry. Soon we will have a volunteer job board out in our narthex, so that you will know where volunteers are most needed. Starting in September, we are going to offer a six week bible study called “Find your Place”, that will help you find your calling and how God can best use you to serve and share God’s love through action.
The third goal in our action plan is a cooperation goal. We are part of the United Methodist church, and we are going to better live into the united part of that. We have begun working with Knox, Hamlet, La Crosse, and Hannah UMC to form a cooperative parish. A cooperative parish is a formal partnership between United Methodist churches. Each church remains fully autonomous, but we can work better together. By sharing talent, resources, and teaming, each church can help the others to be stronger. We have already seen some early fruit of this budding partnership. Knox UMC has become a collection site for Kid’s Closet and we are sharing youth group curriculum with Hamlet UMC in the Fall. In August we will be doing pulpit exchanges and a social gathering on August 29th so that as churches in cooperation together we can get to know each other.
The final emphasis is one that fully relies on you. If we want to grow and make disciples then we have to invite people. We can follow all of the marketing and hospitality guides we want. We can have the best website and a high social media presence, but none of those things are as effective as a personal invitation. Study after study has shown that 60-80% of people would attend a church if someone invited them to it. Other studies have shown that for a church to consistently grow, it needs to have new visitors equal to its weekly worship attendance each year. With that influx of visitors, if only ten percent keep coming back, then the church has grown by an incredible ten percent! If we want to grow as a church, if we want to fulfill our mission to make new disciples, then we must be regularly inviting people. I challenge each of you to set a personal goal of how many people to invite to church. Do not settle for just one or two, I challenge you to make it a big goal. Make it your goal to invite that many people to church between now and the end of the year.
I believe we are in a building year. That’s not a bad thing because it means if we do the work and we trust God to provide, then we will find ourselves as a church in a much stronger place than we were even before the pandemic. So may we not be discouraged, may we take heart and look to the future with hope as we build upon the foundation of the church, the good news and saving grace of Jesus Christ.