A Word from Walker
The weather is warming up and we are beginning to see signs of the much-awaited advent of spring. Coupled with this is our longing anticipation of eventually outstriding the pandemic that has chased us around for two years. As I talk with pastors and church leaders, most feel their churches are back to more regular rhythms in ministry and are thus a little more emboldened to make plans for upcoming months. Still, many congregations have sustained about a 30-35% reduction in public worship attendance. What is the right response to this challenge? Here are some of my thoughts about this …
First, the pandemic has given us an opportunity to diversify our approach. For lots of churches, the most important thing they did was to come together for public worship. While public worship is essential, it is by no means singularly important. For example, if our goal is for the church to be about the mission of making disciples, then what are the indicators that our members are moving beyond the four walls of the church’s physical location to engage the lost with the gospel and see the Kingdom of God expanded? Is it just about worship or Sunday School attendance? I have noticed that churches that were about the mission of moving out into their communities and beyond before the pandemic were doing better than churches that weren’t. Part of the reason for this is that if a church’s missional strategy was attractional, this meant that success was all about bringing people to services or an event. When the pandemic hit, obviously they were stuck because they couldn’t physically gather. Even if this were the case in the past, those same churches had the once-in-a-generation opportunity to shift from being solely dependent on gathering as their core missional strategy to diversifying their approach. A good example of this is accessing technology where previously it was not strategically used. This slight shift gave churches a new way of reaching people. Instead of ditching this, why not keep this approach as an expanded way of reaching more people. Such pivots, and what they taught us about being more innovative in our approach to ministry, should serve as a new leveraging point in creative pathways for disciple-making.
Second, the short-term (at the very least) reduction in worship attendance should move us to spend more time equipping those that remain to become more missional. This means helping them understand their gifts and talents in light of maximizing their investment in others for the glory of God. Instead of wringing our hands over the people we’ve lost, we should be doubling down and developing the people we have. Years ago I was exposed to the ministry of a Foursquare Pentecostal Church that was planted right in the middle of Simi Valley during the height of the technological boom. What their pastor discovered was that about every 2-4 years, their members would be transferred all over the world. For a while every leader in the church was understandably discouraged. Then it hit them … God had engineered this so that they could train up their people to bless other congregations. So instead of mourning over this pattern, they got really serious about discipling their members so that they were ready to bless churches, literally, all over the world. In similar fashion we should treat any reduction in attendance as a stimulant to get serious about discipling the people that are present.
In the coming months we will be introducing a tool called Disciple-Cycle. It is designed to help a church of any size launch a simple, replicable way of getting started in a disciple-making movement. You will hear more about this as we get ready to launch this ministry late second or early third quarter of this year. In the meantime, keep looking at new and better ways of helping the people you have become more Kingdom-focused children of God. We value and appreciate each of you and look forward to finding new ways we can partner together to see great things happen.
Your fellow servant in Christ,
That evening vast numbers of quail flew in and covered the camp. And the next morning the area around the camp was wet with dew. When the dew evaporated, a flaky substance as fine as frost blanketed the ground. The Israelites were puzzled when they saw it. “What is it?” they asked each other. They had no idea what it was.
And Moses told them, “It is the food the LORD has given you to eat. These are the LORD’s instructions: Each household should gather as much as it needs. Pick up two quarts for each person in your tent.” Exodus 16:13-16
I have read this account for years, but there are various aspects that the people of Israel faced as they journeyed by faith that somehow escaped me. The truth that we see in Exodus 16 as the people faced a crisis of faith when their menu or diet was changing was significant. We can change a lot of things, but don’t mess with our menu! Many of us like what we like and it has taken years to find that comfort zone. Israel had become accustomed to pots full of meat and unlimited breadsticks! Ok, maybe I’ve been eating at Olive Garden too much, but the concept is similar. They actually feared starvation!
Have you ever been there? Has God called you to live by faith leading you into a wilderness that you never anticipated? Maybe you fear starvation even now or wonder where you will soon be living. As much as we like to quote obscure passages about God’s children never “begging bread,” many of us have faced seasons of scarce resources even as we remain steadfast in the calling that we have embraced. Does such negate God’s great promises or calling upon our lives?
I would suggest that there is a greater concept at work here. Perhaps living by faith means that we don’t always know what is for dinner. Embracing the unpredictable nature of faith stretches us further than many of us find comfortable. Could God actually have a plan that would literally require me to be uncomfortable? That flies in the face of our American cultural theology or belief system. So many of our programs and ministry plans revolve around our comfort and the limitations of volunteers.
What impact would it have if we resolved to live by faith in such a way that our comfort no longer determined our decisions? What if we ask ourselves hard questions such as the ones we heard at our state evangelism conference recently. Who am I sharing the Good News with? Who am I discipling? Am I inwardly focused on the growth of one church, or could God use our church (no matter the size) to be a catalyst for the Kingdom of God toward multiplication and planting?
When we resolve to ask these hard questions on a regular basis, we realize that there are mid-course corrections that need to be made lest we find ourselves and our churches off course, drifting in the waters of people-pleasing and ear tickling. Maybe those pots of meat and unlimited breadsticks will change to quail and manna. You may have never even seen manna before and need someone to explain God’s provision to you, but this willingness to change when God tells us to can make all the difference when we live by faith.
Many opportunities are opening for PMBA churches to be uncomfortable for the sake of the gospel. We have some exciting events scheduled soon that will advocate for churches to deliver meals to people in need at Easter, challenge their members to consider how God might use them to foster or adopt children, and even explore what it would mean for them to multiply by planting a Hispanic church within their church or another new work that is needed in our region.
We are here to take these steps of faith with you and to connect the dots as much as possible as God opens and closes doors of ministry. Contact us today to collaborate in the harvest that God has for us across the region!
Until He comes…Go!