Growth and the Real Presence of Christ.
Every chance I get, I host an informal open forum during coffee hour while visiting a parish. I ask folks to tell me about their parish, ministries, and interests; and I answer questions they have about my work, ministries, and interests. I always find this time inspiring and enlightening.
I can practically guarantee one question will always come up if the forum lasts long enough for the conversation to get deep: “There’s a big new non-denominational church in town that attracts all sorts of members. They’re growing like crazy! They have a praise band, rock music, TV screens, and a long sermon. Why don’t we start doing this?”
Folks are tired of declining church attendance and dropping membership, and they want to talk about growth. For the record, it is fantastic that we are looking to our sister churches for good ideas. Discipleship is not a solo calling! Anywhere we see fellow Christians spreading the redemptive love and healing power of Jesus Christ, we should do everything we can to learn new ideas and share our best ideas in turn.
However, here is a question in return: Why do we presume that the reason for growth in the church across town is only due to the worship style? What other things is that church doing well that might account for their growth?
I suggest, my friends, that churches aren’t surging in attendance just because of different worship or music. Growing churches invite and welcome and connect, and they make this focus on the outsider a way of life. They talk about Jesus Christ without hesitation and invite folks to church joyfully. Their websites are current, and they have clear and attractive signs out front. They have greeters in the parking lot where they save the best spaces for guests. They greet visitors personally on Sunday, and they follow up later in the week with a simple thank-you call. Their worship spaces are well-lit, and their nurseries are clean and safe. And so on and so on. These things are not a recipe for overnight growth, but they are ways to help start and sustain a culture of growth, sharing, and abundance.
By the way, this is not to say that worship does not matter for growth! Worship is one of the foundational ways we are nourished and rejuvenated. Episcopalians are so bold as to claim that in Holy Communion we can experience the real presence of God! Such deep, mysterious encounters with God are precisely what people are hungering for. We have it to give freely.
I am glad we are talking about growth. It means we treasure what we have enough that we want others to know its truth and power. Great worship is not about style or volume; it is about vitality. Rock bands work for some, while organ and choral music works for others; God bless all of us in our diversity. Whatever style we offer, it has to be our best, for only our best is worthy of the living God and worthy of inviting others to share.
(Want to read real stories about how sacramental churches like ours can grow? I urge you to read Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, Making Church Matter by M. White and T. Corcoran, and Invite, Welcome, Connect: Stories and Tools to Transform Your Church by M. Parmer.)