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?