“D O NOT GIVE UP meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” (Hebrews 10)
Seems there was a problem, even way back then in the early Christian communities, of people dropping out of church. Not at all unlike today.
A recent survey indicates that 23 percent of Americans claim “no religion” when asked. Sometimes called the “nones.” Another group identifies as being “spiritual but not religious.” They believe in God, maybe even Jesus, but are turned off by the church.
‘Nones’ now as big as evangelicals, Catholics in the U.S.
— headline on a March 22, 2019, report from Religion News Service
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SO, THEY SPEND their Sunday mornings sleeping in, mowing the lawn, lounging on the beach, traveling for sports, eating brunch at Brick and Spoon. They are happy. Restful. Content.
Some of these “nones” have never had any connection with a church. They only know about Christianity based on what they see on TV or read on social media. Sexually abusive priests and pastors. Heartless Christians who shout for executions and deportations. Hypocritical people who talk about love but encourage hate. The church is more country club than rescue mission.
Perhaps they grew up in a church environment, but as they grew, their faith was stymied because they were told not to question, not to doubt, not to challenge. Reasons for staying, leaving, and returning to church are complex and layered.
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WE, THE CHURCH, must respond to this new reality.
Jesus said the fields are ripe for the harvest. That’s no more true than right now. Literally the mission field is right outside our doors — the doors of the church, the doors of our businesses, the doors of our homes.
So how do we do that? Simply this. We begin to see worship, church, our ministry offerings through the eyes of people not attending worship. We look through the lens of an outsider. Become more outwardly focused. The Rev. Roger Nishioka led a workshop at our last presbytery meeting. He shared some things about this new reality:
■ We have to make worship more immigrant-friendly (for people who don’t know the “church” language) and visitor-friendly.
■ We need to shift our mission field from out there to right here in our own community.
■ We need to be more nimble. We are now in a fast-paced and quickly changing social environment. We can’t take six months for an idea to work to happen.
■ We develop caring, loving, nurturing, personal relationships with others.
■ We move from discipleship to apostleship. Instead of waiting for people to come to us, we need to take God’s message to them. Just like Jesus did.
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HERE ARE SOME IMPROVEMENTS we’re working on as a church. You are needed in this.
■ Branding. We’ve created a new logo for the church. It will be used on promotional material, signage, letters, welcome cards, as a way to help people identify Swift Church and our ministry.
■ We’ve begun working on local mission in connection with a local school. The “two cents a meal” offering is now going toward that goal. What else might there be? If you’re interested and have ideas, see me.
■ Make this campus guest-friendly. New, attractive and welcoming signage inside all the buildings to guide guests to different parts of the church. New, attractive and welcoming signage outside our buildings. See me if you are willing to help with that.
We have difficulty with road signage because of land ownership. We’re not allowed to put up signage on Beach Express at County Road 20 or Doc McDuffie. What other options do we have so people will know we’re here? If you’re got ideas and solutions, see me.
■ People return when they experience warmth. Where people feel valued. We shuffled the pews to make this space feel less cavernous and more intimate. What else can we do? We are partitioning the back portion of the sanctuary, the area behind the columns, to make a gathering area. A place to hang out and share our lives, to meet and welcome guests, to build community. Let me know your ideas for this.
But none of this, in and of itself, reaches people for Jesus. It simply makes our church welcoming and inviting. Just like you clean and organize your home before special company arrives, just as you wash your car before picking up a date, we do this to prepare for guests coming. Of course, you don’t have to wait until everything is “just right” before inviting and welcoming your friends and acquaintances.
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I LEAVE FOR A SABBATICAL right after Easter. I start that time away by taking a class, “Tell Me Your Story and I’ll Know Why I Should Come to Your Church.” When I complete that class, I’m going to come right back to share that information with church leaders and look to implement what I’ve learned.
What is our story? That’s not a history lesson of our ancestors coming by boat to worship. Who are we? Why are we here? What does Swift Presbyterian Church offer that someone should drive past five, six or a dozen churches to worship in the piney woods? How are lives changed because of Swift? How has your life changed?
That’s our story. The testimonies of people who have been touched by God through this church. And when we know that story, how do we make it known so that other people know our story?
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SO, WHAT IS OUR STORY? If you were asked to brag about Swift to a non-churchgoing person, what would you say that would make them want to check us out? Give me an elevator speech. Three minutes telling Swift’s story. Write me a note. Send me an email. Record a video. I want to know your story. We want to know your story. And we will make known some of those stories to people who long for the warmth of being wrapped in the arms of a loving God.
How are lives being changed at Swift? Because that’s what it boils down to. When the “nones” hear that lives are changed, perhaps, just perhaps, with the Spirit’s nudging, they will think maybe their lives can be more fulfilling as well by being part of this community of faith.
Think about that and let me know.