Saturday, July 27, 2013

New Life in Half Full Churches

Throughout my lifetime (FYI: I’m in my late thirties), denominations and religious institutions have been in decline.  Some have even declared the future of small membership churches to be bleak.  As I connect with our regional churches, I hear a lot of concerns lifted up, many ripple effects from this generation of decline and some from the roller coaster our global economy has been on for the past few years.  It’s tempting to think the glass is half empty, isn’t it?
Yet the evidence is to the contrary.  Local churches are finding vitality and new life from mission partnerships and creative ways of addressing local needs, preaching the Word and nurturing the next generation of believers.  Think of the possibilities when we become more at the ready to declare:  “The glass is half full!”
First Baptist Church of Cambridge, NY
Recently, I was close to the New York/Vermont border, spending the morning with the First Baptist Church of Cambridge, NY.  At the mealtime after worship, the pastor asked her congregants to share about the mission of this rural church.  At first, the conversation began slowly, yet it gained momentum as the members shared about the missions they carry out.  For a small membership congregation, these folks are quite remarkable! 
The church supports American Baptist missions and other projects, yet their greatest activity is local and missional.  A summer lunch program is underway with every Friday providing a meal for school age children and food to take home for the weekend and following week.  They take turns as the hosts of a monthly community meal, which draws together an intergenerational gathering of townspeople for a good home-cooked meal (for some attendees, it might be one of the few well-rounded meals they might have during the week) and fellowship (for all attendees, the conversation and community nourishes everybody). 
            I have offered my time and services to the congregation to facilitate a multi-church gathering for conversation, strategic planning and as I like to add, some work imagining together what might be possible. We will be exploring a time this fall to facilitate a conversation with the Cambridge Baptists and other interested parties about what other needs are going unmet and how the stakeholders can gather community-based solutions and skills to meet them.
In his writings, Paul said part of the work of church leaders is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12).  ABC NYS and the ABC/USA exist to encourage ministry within our local churches. Every congregation has an abundance of gifts to use and share within the church fellowship and around your community.  Small churches can be powerhouses, as evidenced by the number of good stories I hear around the region and elsewhere.  The challenge before us is to share these good words and look for ways that our story might inspire others to join in the good work of loving God and neighbor.
If we think collaboratively, we encourage the whole Body to know its unity and its diversity.  We also help each other live more perceptively and fully as a whole people, as “the Church”.  We live into what God has already made us: one Body, with Christ Jesus leading us on!

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