A Time of Change and Growth
I hope and pray that whether you were with us, or traveling, that you had a joy-filled Easter day and Lent as well. As I look back on this Lent, it has been filled with new leadership, new events, new talents and experiences. I truly hope that you had at least one meaningful experience throughout Lent, Holy Week and Easter. The attendance at our Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services all increased, and that’s due to many people making these services meaningful.
Easter attendance was about 80 less than the largest Easter service we’ve had in the last ten years but it is also in decline, as are weekly attendance numbers. If reading this makes you sad, mad or just uneasy, you’re not alone, but I’m not telling you anything new. Church attendance, in every Protestant denomination as well as the non-denominations, is also shrinking. There was even chatter among the African American churches this year of sitting out Easter service because it’s ‘just a fashion show and hat competition’ and the ‘real worship happens on regular Sunday mornings’.
I personally didn’t get a new Easter outfit (although I always plan to) but many of you looked great in bright ties and spring outfits and high heels (even the communion servers). Well Done!
I know at least in our church, even the most faithful get pulled away on Sunday mornings by major family events, sports, concerts, work, travel, and illness or just sheer exhaustion. The average attendee now comes once a month, not once a week. As a pastor I find this frustrating and distressing and I know many of you share this sentiment.
BUT, there is a major difference between shrinking weekly attendance and shrinking participation. We have the former, like every church on the planet, but we do not have the latter. Many among our members (including our leaders) are doing mission/ministry behind the scenes during the week even though they may be away on Sunday morning. Honestly it took me a while to see this and get used to it. This is the marker of not only a healthy church, but a community that is adapting to change, not shutting down because of it.
Pure ‘adaptive change’, is much harder to see and do, than ‘technical change’. Technical change, as described by change expert Ron Heifetz, is when the problem is clear and the change is affected by experts. Adaptive change requires new learning, where responsibility for the change lies with the followers, not the primary leader. I believe with the changing church environment, what we need to do is both technical and adaptive change. Heifetz describes that space as where the solution requires new learning and both the leader[s] and the followers are responsible for the change.
A great example of how a technical and adaptive change took place throughout Lent was our Lenten devotional. It was launched through members of session with my leadership and written by staff and members — including two of our youth. That’s the technical part.
Here’s the (exciting) adaptive part. At least three couples used the devotional as a way to start their day together before heading off to work. One Deacon gave a devotional to a non-churched family member. One Deacon took a pile of the devotionals to the Firemen’s Home. And one member had the courage to read one of the devotionals over the phone to an employee who was having a meltdown at work.
This is only one recent example of how we can affect change to sustain our mission and ministry. There are other examples as well, but we need to do this in all areas of our mission and ministry, not just a few. That’s why we need you all at the church-wide retreat April 29th. This will be an event of fun, spiritual growth and an opportunity for you to share your ideas, vision and perception of what we need to do to sustain and grow our community of faith.
If you’re not around, please find a Deacon or Elder and share your ideas about how we can do this ‘Jesus thing’ even better.
We’re not all going to be willing and able to spread God’s message at the same time. But if even HALF of us gather and seek the Holy Spirit’s leading then we can go into Pentecost with tongues aflame and hearts on fire!
Seeking the Holy Spirit with you,