I received various responses regarding my previous post. After digesting that info, I have come to the conclusion that changes will be necessary if we are to alter the direction in which our church has been headed over the past 10-20 years.
Not only to survive, but more importantly, to grow and be the church God wants us to be and expects us to be.
So what are some things we can do? Let's consider a few questions and then maybe look at some possible solutions.
It's not just about getting people to come, it's about getting them to stay. If we make them feel like they are a part of our church family, the hope is that they too will become an active and participating member, serving others like those that served them when they first arrived.
I have been going to Girard First since 1986 and my first memory of the people was how friendly and welcoming they were. It was almost mind boggling, especially since I came from a much larger church where I didn't experience that. I think we are still great at welcoming others; however, we have become much better at following up, which is just as important.
Let your light so shine before all, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matt 5:16
By allowing our inner light to shine brightly, I believe that there is no way we can't be a reflection of Jesus. The humble selfless servant, that allows others to see their good works, not for their own benefit or recognition, but to glorify God, will always be a beacon of light to all. And when we serve selflessly, as Jesus did, then there is no way that we won't be a reflection of Him.
Are we accepting of all, with ALL being the key word? I recently heard something at Monday night bible study regarding acceptance. It came from a lesbian women who never felt accepted by Christians. Then one day she became friends with a minister who disagreed with most of her thoughts and beliefs, but still was able to convey love towards her. It was a beautiful story and much too long to tell; however, I want to provide the condensed version of what she said. It went something like this, "there's a difference between acceptance and approval". Meaning, the minister may not have approved of her lifestyle, or some of her ideals, but he was still accepting of her. It's easy to share our faith with others like us, those we know and love, who look, sound and talk like us, but what about those not like us? Those are the people we must attract to our church as well. Just as Jesus came not to judge, but to serve all, so should we.
God sent His Son into this world not to
judge the world, but to save the world through Him. John 3:17
For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve others. Mark 10:45
Do we as a church read the word, live the word and spread the word? Now that's a challenging trifecta, isn't it? There was no caveat or disclaimer when Jesus said to go make disciples!! We must continue as individuals and as a congregation to be in the word. Not just reading it, but listening to it, understanding it and applying it to our lives. And in doing so, our lives will be changed. And then it is our responsibility to extend the word to others, spreading that good news to all. God's word is truly a gift and once you or I have received it, we must share it. I am excited about the newly ignited focus on the bible at GUMC. In just a few short months, we have seen two new bible based groups form, a bible for beginners class, the Monday night group digging even deeper and the Asbury class continuing to grow stronger in the word. As a church and as individuals, we must always continue to stay focused on God's word, which is truly a living, breathing, life guiding instrument.
What do you think we need to do to attract the younger generation to GUMC and then keep them coming back? The answer to this question, and many others you may have, will be addressed at a congregation wide meeting on Monday, April 6 at 7:00 PM in the sanctuary. If you want to have your say on where we are headed and be a part of the exciting and positive direction I believe our church is moving towards, then please come to this meeting. It is your chance to see what is tentatively planned, make any suggestions and voice your concerns.
Finally, why are we here? I have asked that question of myself and I'm sure many of you have as well. Usually that question is applied to life in general; however, for the moment, I want to apply it solely to our church. So let me rephrase the question.
Why are we here at GUMC? A few months ago I attended a workshop and the leader was talking about faltering churches. He said someone made this comment to him regarding the life of his church, "I need it to be around long enough to marry me and bury me." How sad is that and how self-serving. Could you imagine if all those wonderful people before us and the current elders of our church thought like that?
So I ask again, why are we here at GUMC? I believe the most pressing reason we are here at GUMC is to continue to allow it to do God's work, as well as honor those that came before us and leave a legacy behind that will enable our children and grandchildren to enjoy all the same benefits that the church provided to us. However, if our church is to be a true instrument of God, serving Him in all the ways He instructs, then we must eventually go even further.
I believe we will never be the church He truly wants us to be if we don't extend our reach outside of our church walls and outside of our own circle of GUMC friends and families. We must make a concerted effort to reach out to our community, to the non-religious and nominally religious. To those that don't look like us, talk like us or sound like us and to those that have strayed from the church for one reason or another. When we can do all of this, then I believe our church will be that beacon of light, brightly shining on all. It will be that place where people know they are welcome, with no requirements and with no judgment. And it will truly be a reflection of Jesus.
I'd like to finish with what might be my favorite discipleship passages.
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim Him? And how are they to proclaim Him unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! Romans 10:13-15
Let's be the church that brings the good news to all!!
Have you thought about the direction of our church lately? Have you thought about where our church has been headed over the past 10-20 years? Have you thought about where it will be in 2025 or 2035? And finally, are you good with the status quo? Do you think if we stand pat as a church, keep doing what we've been doing the past 20 years or so, we will survive, grow, be able to serve all and do the work of the Lord? Before I say anything else, I have to state that what we're experiencing as a church isn't uncommon. Very few young families,Sunday school almost non-existent (except for Asbury), declining attendance and an aging congregation. In fact, these same issues are being dealt with by many, if not most of the traditional churches in the area and throughout the country.
I believe that if we don't evolve and become more open to the things that will attract the younger people and families with young children, we will not survive. I say that not because I am an expert in this field, far from it, but because I see all the churches in our area that have closed over the years, with all denominations affected.
Does evolving mean we forget about the long time members and those who have been serving the church for 20, 30 even 50 or more years and focus only on the new people? Absolutely not!! I believe that would be a fatal mistake. If it wasn't for them, the church wouldn't be here right now. Those are the people that have so much to offer and we need them to provide guidance, strength and their years of experience to help us move forward and to bring along the new people. That is part of being a true disciple of Christ.
Are we as a congregation willing to stand pat? Are we satisfied with the direction our church has been heading the past 10-20 years? If we are, I believe we won't make it another 20 years max at that pace, or we'll be a shell of what we used to be. If you have any suggestions, offer them. If you have any questions, ask them, but don't stand by and criticize just because you don't like something. Get involved. Be a part of what's happening in our church. Don't stand on the outside, being divisive, get in the mix and be a cohesive member. In the end, we all have to do this together.
We not only owe it to ourselves, but to the many who came before us here at GUMC and those who are coming up behind us, especially our children and grandchildren. And by children, I mean not only our biological children, but the children of the church, who are the responsibility of us all!! Think about all the great friendships you've developed in our church. Life long, forever friendships. What an amazing blessing we have been to each other. If you stop and think, I'll bet many of your closest friends are from our church. People you've been friends with 10, 20, 30, even 50 or more years. I know that is definitely true for Wendy and I.
Do you see that opportunity being available to our children and grandchildren? When I look around our church, I don't! And you know why? How many 20 to 30 year old people do you see sitting in our pews that they could become friends with? Most Sundays, very few and on some Sundays, none. That alone should make us all stand up and do whatever is necessary to make this church grow and become vibrant for generations to come, with lots of young families and children, so that our children and grandchildren can have that same opportunity to develop life long friendships.
What are we going to pass on to the next generation? Will it be a strong, vibrant, growing and accepting of all church, with the face of Jesus stamped everywhere, or will it be a church hanging on, just trying to get by and hoping we can make it? It's everyone's choice, not just a select few. Let's work together. We might not always see eye to eye and might not agree on everything, or hardly anything, but I believe we can all agree on a few things. First, through God's grace, we are saved by faith through Christ our savior. And finally, we love this church, we love each other and we want to make GUMC the best that it can be in every way possible. Our time is now, young and old!! Are you ready? The church needs you now more than ever.
My last post spoke to those of us 50 and over, but what about the under 50 crowd and yes, I am including the teens and 20 somethings too. In that same Revival class I referenced in my previous post, there were various other reasons we became "comfortable" in where we were in our Christian lives. The one most pertinent to the under 50 crowd was related to time. And for the under 50's, there doesn't seem to be enough of it. Many of the following were mentioned in class and others I have added; too busy at work, too busy with kids and school stuff, too busy with kids activities like dance, sports and music lessons to name a few, I need weekends to recover after a long work week, Sunday is my golf day, I have to study, I worked and went to school all week, I need some me time and a big Sunday favorite, I like to sleep in. Also, here's one that was heard occasionally from the DiBernardi kids when they were home, I stay out late Saturday night, church starts too early on Sunday. And finally, one I fell back on, I'll have plenty of time for that faith stuff when I get older.
OK, with absolutely no time, or so it seems, for "faith stuff", what do you do? Do you wait until you're older? Trust me, that isn't the answer. Since I'm barely over 50, I feel confident in speaking to this issue and plus, it's fresh enough in my memory that I haven't forgotten.
I'll give you a quick look back into my life from my late teens, right up until 50.
Late teens into my early 20's: lots of going out, nightclubs, working out, various jobs and yes, church on Sunday. I usually devoted "a whole hour" to my faith per week.
Mid 20's to mid 30's: met Wendy (lucky me), got married (again lucky me), four different jobs before I found my place, started a family, worked an outrageous number of hours, started coaching and started the craziness of kids' activities. Still attended church regularly, joined Asbury, sang in choir, served on a few committees. Upped my hours devoted to faith to 3 or 4 a week, except in summer, when I was lucky to devote a single hour.
Late 30's to 50: crazy kids schedule, coaching tons of baseball and basketball, still working too much, in fact had two jobs for a while, trying to still stay in shape (wow, it's a lot harder now).
Then in my late 40's, I finally began to allow God into my life daily, which is a story for another day. I know there's lots more in between that I didn't mention over those 30 plus years, but I'm sure all of you can relate to many of these. On a side note, I don't give parenting advice, except when it comes to this, if you have kids, DON'T MISS A THING!! I don't care what you have to do, but don't miss that dance recital, band concert, sporting event, graduation, play, school dance, church activity, or anything else!! You only get one shot at all of those things.
Now back to the time issue. As you can see, my time devoted to my faith over those 30 plus years was less than impressive; however, I was fortunate that the Lord blessed me with enough time in my life so that I finally began to figure it out. So now what?
What does the under 50 crowd do with some of their spare time? Now remember, under 50 also includes teens and 20 somethings. And trust me, the over 50 crowd fits into most of these as well. Let's see, social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and Pinterest to name a few. Games, whether on your phone, tablet or computer, which are too many to mention. And don't forget X-box and Play Station. Binge TV watching from sources like On Demand, Hulu and Netflix. And then there's going out on weekends, eating out (wow, a lot more than I remember when I was growing up), sleeping for what seems like an eternity and hopefully faith related activities. We recently discussed in Asbury the amount of spare time we spent on everything else compared to what we devoted to our faith. The numbers were a wake up call to many of us, myself included. We talked about how if we devoted just a small portion of that time to increasing our faith, what a difference that would make.
So where do you go from here?
1. Try your best to allot some time solely to your faith, whether that be in prayer, in scripture, in service to others and in worship. Looking back at all the stuff you have going on in your lives, that can be a difficult task, but the benefits will far outweigh the sacrifice of time.
2. I can't stress enough the importance of showing your children, if you have them, the importance of faith in their lives. And live a life of faith as an example to them. The earlier you start, the better.
3. Get active in your church, because you are it's future. Find a small group, or maybe even start one, join a bible study, serve on a committee, bring your kids to youth functions and finally, try to attend worship more regularly. If the church is to survive, it will be because of your group. You are the ones that are next in line when all of the elders are gone. Your group has so much to offer, not to mention a lot more energy and younger minds and bodies. Just as the church needs the over 50's to survive, in the end, it needs the under 50's just as much, otherwise, it will cease to exist.
So break out that daily planner or cell phone calendar and allot some extra time for your faith. Speaking from experience, I know it will be of great benefit to you and your family, as well as the church. Not to mention all those that you will have the potential to affect as you become a more active servant of the Lord.
Dave is the Discipleship Czar at Girard 1st. His unofficial title was given because of his love for Christ, and his consistent encouragement for people in their spiritual walk.