“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”Revelation 3:1-3 NIV
Lately, Millie and I have focused our sharing around the question Church council and Ministry team are discerning: When should we return to our church building for worship services. During one of our meetings, Millie and I shared what God had placed on our hearts: The closing of our church building for such a long time and the closing of church buildings across the US and around the world all at the same time is God shaking the church to wake us up. There is something God wants us to see, but if we return to our building we risk falling asleep again.
A group within our discernment meetings is in the process of refining the prophetic words that were shared. We’ll update you on that when we have more news to share.
When you look at what has happened to the whole world during the covid-19 pandemic you might think that this is bigger than the church and maybe this isn’t a wake up call for the church. It is true that this pandemic is bigger than just the church. I have heard a lot of differing opinions on what has been happening, so I will add the following points to the prophetic words that I shared: (1) There are other church leaders who also feel what is happening is from God for the church. Conrad Kanagy’s words have been influential and he is one of the main sources. (2) I did not take Conrad’s words on their own, I prayed and fasted about them, I asked God what he was doing and I came to a similar conclusion. (3) God has a message for the church in this disaster, but God also has a message for the nations, including the US. I feel that God wants us, the church, to see this message too so we can be his messengers to the US and the nations of the world around us.
The prophet Ezekiel in his message to the people of Jerusalem talks about Babylon as God’s sword to humble and punish his people, but Ezekiel also includes messages for the nations around Israel, words of judgment for their deeds which will also come at the hand of the Babylonians. In a similar way the covid-19 pandemic is a message for the church and a different message for the US and the nations around us. If we open our eyes to see what Jesus is doing to us, the church, we could also see what is happening to the world around us from Jesus’ eyes. I have thoughts on what God is trying to say to the nations, but I have not spent time praying about that.
For now, I want to take time share what I think God is wanting our church family to see when we wake up.
There is some confusion in the words that we shared: Why would we say that we’re asleep? And what are we being directed to see? The answer is that I’m not sure what God is wanting us to see, but Millie and I have some ideas. Some ideas of why we are asleep and possibly one of the things that God wants us to see.
Seeing the numbers
Last week, Millie shared about the size of our church family and I wanted to spend some time there again. We are a small church and being a small church is good. Most churches in the world are small churches, right about our size. Our size is and never was a problem. Big or small churches aren’t a problem. Mega churches are ok. House churches are ok. Size isn’t what we need to see.
The point we need to remember is that based on trends within the US and the trends that we’ve witnessed ourselves over the last 10 years, is that we are not growing. In fact, we continue to decrease and eventually we will close if this trend continues. So, if you believe that our church family will grow OR stay the same even though we don’t make any significant changes, then you are believing something that doesn’t fit the reality we have experienced these past 10, 20 or 30 years. If you believe, as Millie and I do, that if we continue like we have, we will continue to decrease and eventually close, then you are seeing the numbers that we are.
We have made changes these past 10 to 20 years and some might think that they were significant changes, but the numbers we see tell us a different story. What is more difficult to see are some numbers that only a few of us know which I’ll share right now.
We are stressed when it comes to the number of church positions and the number of people that can serve in church positions. Right now, 57% of our membership are able to serve in a church role and we currently have 85% of those that are able to serve, currently serving in at least one role. We have 48% serving in multiple roles. We currently have 1.6 positions available per person able to serve. In 10 years, I estimate that the number of people available to serve will drop by 10% and the number of positions per person will rise to 2.3.
On one hand you might think that we have excellent church participation. Yes we do. People are devoted to making things work. On the other hand, we are in desperate trouble because we have a hard enough time finding people to fill all our positions now. What will happen in 10 years?
One solution is to reduce the number of positions, which has been happening, but we often forget that when that happens, we tend to dump more responsibility on to individuals who then carry a big weight all by themselves. Accountability becomes difficult, tasks don’t get done quickly or at all and on a rare occasion I hear disappointment, but why? We should feel sorry for ourselves because it is too much work for too few people.
Seeing our future
I think it was in 2019 when I was in a conversation where we were talking about dairy farms closing because milk prices had gone so low. Someone said that for many of the farms that were closing the decision was made many years ago. If you looked back 20 or more years ago, each farm had to make choices about their future. Pay now and invest in their future or save money and continue unchanged. The farms that continued unchanged did well while milk prices were good, but when prices dipped they closed because they had made their decision already since they didn’t invest and couldn’t keep up in the new economy. You can’t go back in time to change your mind.
As we look 10 years into our future, you will rightly look to the young people in our congregation as our future and want to invest in them. We are investing in them, if you’re wondering. We have some of our best leaders investing in them: Felixa, Maria, Tim, Dean have been working hard these past few years and they aren’t the only ones. I will point out though, their attention is divided. They are doing other church jobs.
When you look 10 years into our future, what do you see? Will our young people look forward to that future? Will they give up baseball games or wrestling or University to go to committee meetings? Will they find joy in taking on roles that are becoming heavy for us to carry now?
Seeing our humble place
It’s good to be a small church, but it is not good to be a sleeping church. We are asleep because we don’t see the desperate situation we are in. We are already stretched so thin just to maintain what we have. To invest more in our future is not possible without breaking something. We will need to make more significant changes. Changes will come regardless of what we want. Covid-19 has created for us a turning point that we cannot go back to the way we were.
There is good news in this message. The good news is that Jesus is with us in this. When Jesus calls the churches in Revelation to repent, he is asking us to do a good thing for ourselves. We wake up to change. To repent and change is a humbling experience, but this is where Jesus wants us. When we humble ourselves or allow ourselves to be humbled, then it is up to Jesus to raise us up.
The biblical definition to repent means to turn and change your direction, and I for one, want our direction to change. I want to be awake instead of asleep. I want to increase instead of decrease. I want to see a future of life instead of the future of closing of our doors. If you want the same, then you also want to repent, because to repent means to turn and change your direction.
[Jesus] told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves….”Luke 10:2-3 NIV
Ultimately, I believe that what Jesus wants for us is to be out in his harvest field. There is a way, I believe, to both be good stewards of what we have in our church structures and also become faithful to Jesus’ command to go into the world and make disciples. We will have to make changes to the 53 positions and how we do our work to make more room so that we can invest in God’s Kingdom work in the world around us. If we continue as is, we will burn out.
Being on God’s mission is the best part of church. In Luke 10:17 it says that “The seventy-two returned with joy”.
The challenge that we face today is that we have to make a costly change soon. The wake up call came this year. What happens in 10 years will be a result of our decision in 2020. And this is where prayer and discernment play a key part. I don’t know what changes would be significant enough. All I know is that Jesus is standing in his harvest fields wanting us to be there with him.
When you look at the numbers, do you see that our direction is decrease and eventual closing? To be humbled is good, because when we are humble we will also be willing to change direction. It is time to pray for our future to see what the Spirit is saying about the changes we need to make now. In Luke 10, when the disciples return from being on missoin, Jesus informs his disciples about what he saw.
[Jesus] replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”Luke 10:18-20 NIV