A few days ago, I was at a church retreat. In response to a question on what challenges the church is facing, a woman remarked that one challenge is how people don’t really want to get involved in church. They don’t see it as a life, as much as a place where they can get their needs met and be on their way.
I was glad to see someone in the pews notice this. It’s been a growing frustration of mine over the years. Pastors are pushed in many ways to try to make their churches appealing to folk, especially the oh-so-important Millenial crowd. We are told that younger folks are not interested in serving on committees. We are told they want to do mission. We are told they want a church that is welcoming to LGBT folk. So, we try to do everything to try to attract people: we offer more mission opportunities. We push for our churches to be Open and Affirming. We try to make our worship experiences more hip. There is nothing wrong in trying to be hospitable and welcoming. I’m not saying we don’t engage in mission and I most definitely am not saying churches should not welcome LGBT persons. But there is a danger in that we start to trade the call to discipleship, the call of Jesus to follow him and replace it with a slick marketing message in order to gain market share among a certain demographic.
Again, nothing wrong with churches doing marketing; that is my trade. But there is something wrong about replacing the hard message of becoming a disciple of Jesus for an easy message that tries to get people in the pews.
Methodist pastor Ben Godson reminds us that churches need to engage their local communities instead of trying the latest fad:
A biblical mandate says to go into the world preaching, teaching, and baptizing. It says we are to disciple one another in the ways of Jesus. Part of carrying out that mandate is learning the lay of the land and prayerfully discovering how the ways of Jesus can be lived out in a particular context with particular people. Our American, capitalist drive says if certain methods work well in one place, all we need to do is duplicate those methods everywhere and we can franchise the way to be church. In other words, a biblical mandate cares about people first while a franchising mentality cares about methods and results first. Churches of all shapes and sizes can put people first by uniquely and faithfully seeking to engage the communities they are in using the resources they already have. Other peoples’ ideas too often become warmed over leftovers that don’t fit outside of the context they are in. And that’s okay.
Every pastor or church board chair wants to see more people involved in the life of their churches. We are all desiring some kind of trick to make our congregations grow and thrive. Of course we need to make sure we aren’t placing barriers that prevents growth, but we need to have faith that God will cause the growth to happen at a church. What we are called to do is to help those who want to follow Jesus is to help them become better followers of Christ; in short, we need to make disciples.
Discipleship isn’t sexy and it can be slow. It’s not something that people are going to flock to. But I have to think the benefits are longer lasting than having the latest, coolest worship service.
Even as Minnesotans await a big snow (in May?), I get excited around this time of year because it means I get to plant flowers. Now, I am not a great gardener. Actually, I kinda suck. I’m getting better at it and the flowers I planted last year are slowly coming up. This year, I will water the plants, put some more mulch in the garden. There is no shortcut to a good garden, it just takes time.
The same goes with discipleship. It will take time. Some people won’t be interested and that’s okay. But if we want strong followers of Jesus Christ, we will take the time and not be so uptight. We are called to make disciples, not consumers.