More Than Just Sunday

When I released my overview plan to transform St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church into a mission center – a plan that I believe will change the direction of small churches in our church body – I did so to begin the discussion of one simple question: What is the Church today?

What the Church Was

At one time, most of our now small churches were vibrant, worshiping lots of people every Sunday. They were places where Sunday Schools were overflowing and ministry efforts were strong. And, most of these Lutheran Churches were ethnic at their core. German, Swedish, Chinese, you name it – many established Lutheran Churches had an ethnic component at their founding. For example, if you were German and Lutheran living in the northern New Milford area in the 1900s, you went to St. Matthew’s because it was a German Lutheran Church.

As time has gone on, the ethnic make up of neighborhoods and communities change and the numbers of people attending church every Sunday dwindles. Newer neighbors who have no connection to a Lutheran church are less inclined to attend, even if the church is around the corner from their house.

The challenge for these churches is to begin and sustain a real outreach effort to not just new neighbors but to families in the region. It is here where churches have stumbled. Outreach efforts cannot be sustained if there aren’t enough bodies in the pews or if the bank account is small. In small churches, they begin to look inward instead of outward.

Sunday Morning Church

In small churches, institutions that worship with less than 50 people per week, just because of the smaller attendance and weaker financials, church is Sunday morning. The focus of church leaders, including the pastor, is to make sure that the doors are open and the lights are on come sunrise on Sundays. Small churches, by their very nature, retract from daily ministry simply because “there aren’t enough bodies to get the work done.” When church events come up, there are always complaints that the same small group of people are doing the work. And as membership grows older, the numbers of people doing the “church things” drops, putting pressure on the remaining members to keep the doors open on Sunday morning.

An Idea

I believe that if we are to change the direction of small churches in our Synod, the first realization that all small worshiping communities have to come to is that there is no grand Daddy Warbucks coming to drop a ton of cash into the bank account. The Synod and all of our individual districts don’t have the resources to pour endlless amounts of dollars into helping keep up small churches. They’d go broke just trying.

Small churches have to realize that in order turn things around, they have to take the first step. They need to take a deep look at their ministry (if it even exists) and make a commitment to change.

Change is hard.

After doing the church thing one way for decades and decades, to admit to yourself that it is not working for the greater church is off-putting. It hurts. You’ve liked coming to that particular building for years and years. You’ve loved singing the same hymns week after week. Maybe there are even times when you like the pastor’s sermon. It is your church.

Admitting that change is needed – dramatic and soul-rattling change – is scary. We love our comforts. When doctors tell us to change our diets, no one wants to stop eating the foods that we like.

Yet to change the direction of a church, this type of change is needed. It means taking a serious look at the entirety of the church and making a true estimate of the effectiveness of the ministry. If at any time during your assessment you start looking inward at yourself and at your comfort level, stop. The assessment should be about how your church is doing and what direction is it headed.

If small churches take this assessment truthfully and without emotion, then they will say that change is needed.

We all have to remember two important aspects of our Christian lives: Churches are not buildings. Churches are the people of God.

Today in many of our small churches, the struggles of ministry and membership and finances are real. If we are to turn things around, we need to commit to major change. Churches need to be more than just a Sunday morning appointment on your calendar. Souls are at stake.

“Have We No Decency”

 

From Mona Charen at The National Review:

Not too long ago, I returned to my parked car and found a sheet of paper on the windshield bearing an expletive-laden message. The anonymous poster had obviously gone to some effort to make these flyers on his home computer — complete with color cartoon figures and such. It let me know what a $#@&*%! I was. My sin was having parked my car a tiny bit over the white line. I confess, I’m guilty. The garage was full of empty spaces, mind you, and it was only a few inches, but still, it was wrong. But did it require that response? If he had to vent his rage, couldn’t he have left a note saying “It’s inconsiderate to park over the white line”? My offense seems to have been merely an excuse. This person, clearly overflowing with hostility to his fellow men, had preprinted these vulgar missives, and delivered them to everyone who offended him.

Is it my imagination or has the tone of the Internet seeped into daily life? People often suggest that Twitter’s cruelty and misanthropy are unique to the format. Announcing that he was deleting Twitter from his phone, Andrew Sullivan advised: “Social media has turned journalism into junk, has promoted addictive addlement in our brains, is wrecking our democracy, and slowly replacing life with pseudo-life.”

Continue reading “Have We No Decency?” Written by Mona Charen at National Review

Monday Morning, November 13th

A few years ago when I was sick, one of my doctors told me rather emphatically to stay away from sugared cereal, especially every brand of Cheerios. Considering the advice was coming from a doctor promoting a whole food, plant-based diet, the “stay away from the presweetened cereal aisle” advice didn’t seem so far-fetched.

Yet to the doctor, the importance of staying away from added sugar was important since a number of studies showed that sugar helps feed cancer. And if you have cancer, my doctor believed the best way to stop feeding it was to stay away from added sugar in foods.

CheeriosA couple of days ago, the New York Times ran a story about Honey Nut Cheerios, asking whether or not this sugar-laden cereal was healthy. Over the years, General Mills, the creators of the Cheerios brand, have reduced the serving size of the Honey Nut cereal from one cup to three-quarters of a cup to reduce the sugar-per-serving visual on boxes. Honestly, have you ever eaten just three-quarters of a cup of Honey Nut Cheerios? No. Do people actually follow the serving size suggestions on the sides of their breakfast cereals? No. All of us end up pouring cereal into a bowl until our eyes smile saying “Yeah, that’s enough.”

My doctor from years ago suggested I eat a more balanced whole foods breakfast. Maybe some scrambled tofu with vegetables, or if I am more adventurous, eat a salad. But my doctor’s advice was clear – stay away from the cereal aisle.

Hat Tip to The New York Times: Are Honey Nut Cheerios Healthy? We Look Inside the Box https://nyti.ms/2hpLggR

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Yesterday, our Voters’ Body at church held their not-so-monthly, not-so-bimonthly meeting. Usually, we hunker down in the weeds of finances and budgets, the workings of ministries and calendar issues, business plans and worship thoughts. Essentially, it is a business meeting that most people don’t want to go to, but do because the running of the operations of the church is important.

One idea that I brought up was to start a conversation that builds on our evangelism team’s efforts to rebuild the outreach of St. Matthew’s. I asked if it would be prudent to sit down with our paid staff at church – our music director, church secretary, and pastor – and evaluate what we expect from and determine the future duties of our staff. Our evangelism team is working on the outreach part of our church life. Our Voters’ Body is going to focus on the structure of our operations. To me, both our Vision and Voters’ initiatives will help redevelop the direction of St. Matthew’s for the future. Both church entities are on the same page, yet are doing different and very important leadership tasks. Sunday’s meeting was good.

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This week, we are going to re-launch our Prayer Team’s digital webpage and newsletter. The webpage should be live on Wednesday, the same day we’re sending out the newsletter.

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One question that we received at church this weekend was when were church announcements due in the church office for publication on the weekend? Wednesday at noon has been our traditional date and time. We’re going to stick with it.

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The recent explosion in sexual harassment and assault allegations against a large contingent of male Hollywood stars and leaders shows us once again that our world is sick. Today, say a prayer for an end to this violence, healing for the victims, and that those who committed the acts repent.