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Balancing the Equation – They Need Us

4May2012

I was sitting with parents of young adults over dinner. The topic of conversation centered on their children finding new church homes as they went out on their own, whether it was going off to school, or finding a job, settling down or any circumstance that meant relocating to another community.

The comments were as true and heartfelt as they were predictable:

-It is hard to get up on a Sunday morning and go to church after whatever social activities took place Saturday evening.

-It is hard to connect to a church when there are very few if any young adults in the pews – especially for single young adults.

-It is hard to make a church a priority when many of their peers are unconnected or uninterested in participating in a faith community like a church.

-It is hard to find a community that is close enough, engaged enough in the community, and familiar enough to be able to connect to it.

-It is hard for these parents who feel caught in the middle between giving space for their adult children to make their own decisions while continuing to seek to nurture and guide them.

For most of my ministry I have been working on one side of the discipleship equation, faithfully attempting to answer– How do we as leaders and congregations, welcome, nurture, provide space, reach out, and try to connect with a whole variety of people? Whether it is young adults, youth, families, people in the neighborhood, I’ve worked at answering – How we draw others into the body of Christ? What things are in the way from enabling this from happening, and what resources can we utilize to open things up? In other words, I have been asking hospitality questions – seeking to answer them by doing what we can to open our doors and utilize the gifts people bring into our ministry. Good questions to be sure – but they are only one side of the equation.

Questions arose out of this conversation – As churches, what are we doing to train people to join another church when they move away? Regardless of age, what things do we now that could be improved to help people make such a transition? Are we spending as much time on how we send people as we do in how we receive them?

What if we did?

Then I remembered Don and Eleanor. A former church I served moved physical locations in the early 1960s. A couple came to visit named Don and Eleanor. Nobody said hello to them. Our instinct today would probably say, “Well, they won’t likely be back for another visit.” We would resolve not to let this happen with the next set of visitors who came. We’d train up our people to be better greeters. We’d encourage people to look for new people and intentionally have a conversation to welcome them. We’d work on our signage inside and out of the building. We’d make sure we had coffee and planet of snack after worship so we could encourage conversation. We’d work on ways for the pastor and the evangelism team to follow-up with them and start making connections. We’d plan events or start small groups for them to join and find opportunities for them to meet people outside of worship. They only had phone books in the 1960s, but if this situation happened now we’d make sure our web presence was up to date – our website had current information and new content, we’d have a Facebook Page, a blog, and a whole host of other activities that welcomed, invited, and drew people to participate in our community. We do all of these things. We work hard at them. We see their importance, the need for them, and the constant energy it requires to maintain and develop them. I don’t want to neglect these efforts – I spend a lot of my own time in them enjoy that ministry, but that is not what happened with Don and Eleanor.

They walked out of church after nobody greeted them, and they got in the car to drive home. On the ride home they said to one another, “they need us.” They returned in the following weeks, joined the congregation, and over the course of the next five decades changed the culture of that congregation to be a very warm, friendly and welcoming place. Before Don grew ill several years ago, he was known as “Mr. Evangelism.” At a council retreat I took part in over half of the council members named Don and/or Eleanor as the reason they joined the congregation during a sharing exercise. Don is gone now. Eleanor is still serving and connecting, and the church is better off, because they saw a need where they could help, and faithfully pursued it. In fact they made it their life’s work and ministry.

Here are some other questions to consider in your own ministry setting:

-How could we better train our people to not just be disciples (followers of Jesus), but also apostles (sent by Jesus)?

-How could we better prepare people in our mobile society to seek out new faith communities where they joined them not because they had all the right programs and fit out needs – but because that church could really use the gifts and ministry they could offer?

-How could we better send our young adults – when they leave our congregations to start their adult lives in other locations – ready to serve, participate, and engage people because God sent them there? (And if we already do – what insight can we share with others thinking about this challenge?)

-How could we better pursue our ministry by looking at both sides of the equation – those we receive and those we send? Would it change the overall tone of our ministry and understanding of church?

-What if we trained people to consider a need in a new community, and rather than pull back or go elsewhere, instead took a moment of discernment and say like Don and Eleanor, “Let’s go back…they need us?”

I think we can. I know we can. I believe we can.

Finding balance is never easy.  This is not a question of finding lost sheep – just because we think they need us to rescue them; rather it is about claiming our apostolic calling to be sent and enter into new communities because they need us – our faith, our friendship, and our gifts for ministry.  I invite you to join me in balancing the equation. Or are you already at the door ready to share?  Either way, come on in. We could use your insights in here.

GTS@CCD
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“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (1 Peter 4:10)

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