I was recently approached by a congregation looking for advice on advertising. You see, they wanted more people to attend their church and give money to their budget. So, they figured, I might have some insight about the places young families went on the internet to search for information about churches.
I ended up having a great conversation with the leaders of the congregation, but it didn’t have much at all to do with advertising. Instead, we talked about the Spirit’s work beyond their walls. We considered how to invite others to join in the Spirit’s work in their own congregation. And, mostly, we sought to find a different set of questions -- not about “advertising” at all. Today’s post affirms this mindset by considering the stewardship of community.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Stewardship of Community
During my entire process preparing for ordained ministry in the ELCA, I’ve been surrounded by the notion of the dying church. Churches are getting smaller and smaller. The motto “if you build it, they will come” is no longer a reality. The theory that adults will return to church when they begin having a family is simply no longer valid. Together, we find ourselves asking, “What are we going to do?” “How will the church respond to this societal change in which people no longer find religion to be a necessity for their faith?”
I think we are past the time of the church simply being a place to gather. No longer can we judge the “success” of a congregation by how many butts are in the pews and how much money is in the offering plate each week. Being a good steward of our communities means recognizing that the people who do gather inside the walls of a church do not make up the whole community. There is a group of people missing. Therefore, I think we are in a crucial time of inviting and equipping those who do gather to then scatter. It is time we take seriously the charge we cry out at the end of worship: Go in peace and share the good news!
Part of this call to being good stewards in our communities is a call to take the good news of Jesus Christ into the very places we dwell -- the places we work, shop, hike, drink our coffee, and anywhere else outside the walls of the church. No longer can the Christian community be a once a week gathering. It must become a part of our daily lives. After all, we are called to go!
We are called to go into the community to be witnesses. The trick, though, is not to go as though we are bringing God to a place of need. The truth is, God is already present there and our role is simply to be present and aware of what God is up to. So, part of our call to stewardship involves going into our communities to listen intentionally to those who aren’t in the pews.
When we go, we are not trying to convert people; we are simply trying to live with and among them. We are there to open our ears and hear what the community has to say. We go with no agenda. We do not treat the community like an object, rather a subject. We are called to see communities as God’s beloved children.
In Starting Missional Churches, Mark Branson writes, “If we are to know God’s love of the world, we need to be carried by that love, and that means we will be changed by those who are different.” Being good stewards in our communities means encountering those who look, think, and act differently than us. It is not only about what we can bring to the community, but what the community can bring to us. And, in the process, we too can be transformed as we encounter God in and among the communities we serve -- perhaps especially in the places we least expect.
For More Information
Ryan Dockery is the Pastoral Intern at Messiah Lutheran Church in Vancouver, Washington and is in candidacy through the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod.
Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, May 7-10, 2018. For more information visit: Lake Institute