Saturday, June 7, 2008

How Can An Older Congregation Live Into Christ's Future?

Seeing the Sanctuary Service flourish is a concern near and dear to my heart, and I personally believe that it can flourish, grow, and produce new Christians. Fruit-production requires fertile ground, healthy stock, and (ouch!) even pruning to occur. Although First Baptist itself is growing by leaps and bounds, and we have recently seen quite a few baptisms, that growth is mostly a function of the ministry to children and youth, and the addition of new worship services. I think the Sanctuary congregation faces some of the same hurdles that older stand-alone congregations face in remaining forward-leaning and future-focused. Many of the processes developed for church renewal are probably applicable on a small scale to that part of our church.

Here are some thoughts on church renewal from Bishop Will Willimon of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church:

"No existing, older churches can be revitalized without risk, commitment, and a determination to be faithful to the mission of Christ no matter what.
If your church is in decline and not growing, it is because your congregation has decided to die rather than to live (alas, there is no in between when it comes to churches). The majority of our churches are not growing, thus we have a huge challenge before us. Still, our major challenge is not to find good resources for helping a church grow and live into the future; our challenge is to have pastors and churches who want to do what is necessary to live into Christ's future."

Bishop Willimon is, of course, talking about renewal processes in the United Methodist denomination, but his thoughts, based on wide research, hold true for all denominations. A deeply felt and theologically sound spirituality, lived out in an outward focus, a welcoming and inviting atmosphere, flexibility, and willingness to embrace change for the purpose of reaching and assimilating newcomers, are all signs of an older congregation that has chosen to live, rather than choosing a slow decline and death.

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