Because society needs people willing to stand with poor and powerless people, we want the best of our people going into ministry.
We also have one of the highest native American tribal groups in the country. How can we be in ministry with first americans?
There are all kinds of changes happening both in society and in our churches. Sometimes change can be scary, but it’s also an opportunity to turn the corner and experiment with news ways to bring the gospel to people. It's time to take another step forward in our ministry here in the Southwestern Washington Synod!
If you were to visit any of our congregations, you'd find that they're all doing wonderful work and have a great core of people. Yet, they’re also aware that being church the way it worked 30 years ago doesn’t bring the same results. We all want to be faithful and continue our ministries. But our neighbors aren't coming church like they used to, and our numbers are decreasing. So, how do we stay an effective and vital ministry?
If our neighbors aren't coming into church, then let's bring the gospel into our neighborhoods. It’s important that we will hang on to our identity and the best of our Lutheran tradition, but let's dream up new ways to bring the good news of Jesus Christ on this adventure into our neighborhoods.
This is a time for learning.
SOL in PO. 7 years ago found themselves struggling and there worship congregation was down. They committed to the renewal process. And in the last 7 years they started a whole process of the 3 great listenings. Listening to God. Listening to eachother in the congregation for strengths and dreams. And then, listening to their neighbors and seing who their neighbors are and how they can be in ministry to their neighbors. They adopted their neighborhood, developed an active
Almost doubled Sunday worship. Just got through a loan and worked out finances. People, focus, energy, and financial stability. They are in a whole new place because they made a commitment as a congregation to the renewal process. The 3 great listenings. It’s been members and congregations of they synod that have been generous through mission support, we’ve been able to provide grants for the renewal process. Like helping SOL through the rough spots. Then there is Melanie, who is supported by this also.
Another example is St. John in Lakewood. They adopted that neighborhood and community to reach out to military families. Who are we? They found military families in the neighborhood. A lot of new members are military staff and families. Every says we support troups, but how do you do it. These are ways to do this. SWWS has one of the highest numbers of military bases in the synod in the whole united states. That can be a lonely life at times as people come and go. So, our churches offering hospitality to military families is important ministry.
Maybe you can remember when Boeing was having massive layoffs back in the early 1970’s and a satirical billboard read, “Will the last person leaving SEATTLE - turn out the lights.” Business and markets have cycles of prosperous and hard times. And, the same can be said about churches.
Are you nervous about the future of your own congregation or the ELCA? As a bishop, I often hear people pine longingly for the good ol’ days back 30 years ago when their congregation was thriving. What happened? What went wrong? We look now and see that most of our churches are getting smaller or have plateaued.
Don’t misunderstand, each congregation has a great group of faithful people. I’m always delighted to see folks from our various congregations throughout the Synod. But, I can’t help wonder if they are thinking, “Is this going to be it and then lights out!?”
I am hopeful, because there are good models of growing churches we can learn from and - with the right kind of support - turn this tide around. Our congregations can grow once again. Obviously, training is necessary.
In many cases, we do really well with inspiring worship. And, with new tools, like the “Book of Faith” series, our Bible explorations and discussions are top notch. But, evangelism - sharing the good news with our neighbor - has always made Lutherans nervous. We need the willingness of our saints to overcome this shyness, be trained and commit to learn from mentors how to become backyard missionaries. We can turn “lights out” on its head and turn our lights on for all to see.
Do you know your neighbors? Do you think about ways you can get to know your neighborhood? It won’t happen overnight; it’s not a three-week course. What has worked for you? What has been problematic? I hope in these blogs we can develop a dialog where we can learn from one another best practices and encourage each other to not become weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9).
It is well worth the fight to keep trying and praying for boldness and wisdom in how to reach those in our network of influence. Think of all the good things your congregation and others do in this world. If you were to go away, how many people would suffer? There could be serious repercussions if your congregations’ vital ministries were to cease caring for others in need.
More importantly, if we commit to become backyard missionaries who are passionate about sharing our life-giving faith with our neighbors…what stories will we hear of changed lives from those who have learned just how amazing it is to live in God’s grace? Maybe you already have a story you can share about someone you’ve impacted by sharing God’s love?