I attended a meeting a couple of weeks ago. That in itself is not odd, I have meetings every day. However, this meeting consisted of Lutheran pastors. We spent time talking about what is happening in our congregations. As this discussion progressed I discovered that two churches are close to closing and two other churches are a few years away from that same reality if things continue the way they have been.
Don’t ask me who or which churches, I won’t tell you. That is not for me to share without gossiping. This gave me pause because this is close to “home.” This is more than a national trend, this is local. Then I had a second thought, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Some believe it is a proverb and others connect that phrase to 1Corinthians 15:10. Either way, it is a recognition that others’ misfortune could be one’s own.
In other words, no church is immune to closing and the smaller churches that have struggled are the “canary in the coal mine.” An allusion to caged canaries that miners would carry down into the mine tunnels with them. If dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide collected in the mine, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners, thus providing a warning to exit the tunnels immediately.
What I am about to say has nothing to do with the churches vaguely mentioned above. This is a reflection on the state of the church in general… Are we relevant? Are we engaging people in a meaningful way? I am sure if you are reading this, your answer would be “yes.” After all, you belong to the church and are reading this pastor’s musings. I can’t help but wonder at times, are we a dying breed?
Ultimately, I know the answer to this question. We are not a dying breed because Jesus promised that “the gates of Hades will not overcome” the Church. In other words, the Church will endure but some churches will not. This goes back to relevance and how do we be relevant to the community and not to just to us insiders?
Briefly, I think there are two things we should be thinking about: The Holy Spirit and those around you.
People are drawn to churches where they experience or encounter God. When people encounter God in worship you may not be able to explain it, but you know that God showed up. It is the Holy Spirit of God that touches our heart when we are open to and seeking a connection with God in our worship.
On a Sunday morning, I don’t want to entertain you, I want you to experience the presence of God through the things we do at our time of worship. I don’t want you to be wowed so much as I want you to be in awe that we spent time with God when we worshipped. This has more to do with the conditions of our hearts than it does with the things we do at worship.
However, when people experience God in worship, they know it and they want others to experience that… which leads me to my second point, those around you.
Any more the people in our church is our own personal neighborhood. We might know our actual neighbors or we might not—but we do know the people we worship with. The church is the 21st century version of a neighborhood. We may never connect with our physical neighbors but we do connect with each other at church and there is always room for one more.
When I think the first two core values of Bethel (Hospitality and Christ Centered Community) it just occurred to me that that not only should we invite and welcome people from all walks of life to Bethel, but we also should invite and welcome the Holy Spirit every week into our hearts and into our worship of God. We value Christ Centered Community! Let us intentionally invite God into our worship every week the same way we welcome guests.
God bless you,