I had the fine privilege yesterday of preaching at a small congregation in a small town in southern Kansas. Randa and I also enjoyed the fine privilege of singing there, choosing an old psalm that had been adapted to something of a folk melody. The sermon and the singing seemed well-received by the congregation which would make them both a mutual blessing.
During their announcements there was mention that they had been pursuing merger with at least one other congregation in the same small town. Their comments and their numbers indicated that the shrinking of already small congregations is continuing in what amounts to a crisis for many churches today.
Leaders and members of these groups have been racking their brains trying to figure out how to get more members and more people to come to church and continue coming to church. While some medium churches turn into large churches, some large churches become mega-churches. Of course, there are also some mega churches that grew up from tiny churches. In a great many cases, this is just a reshuffling of the deal. Looking for different programs, different emphases or just different surroundings, many church members have left small congregations and moved to large ones.
Minutes of meetings would show much discussion about a plethora of ideas about how to get more people coming to church. Gone, at least for a while, are the days when the vast majority of confessing Christians believed that they should assemble together for corporate worship at least once a week. Estimates vary on the actual proportion but they all agree that there has been a steady and dramatic decline. There has also been a marked decline in the proportion of our population who claim to believe that Jesus the Christ is the only avenue to salvation. Further, there has been a decline in the portion who claim belief in any personality of higher power. Simply, they do not believe that God or god actually exist.
In what might be viewed as something between irony and tragedy, the modern Church seems to have forgotten, or perhaps failed to grasp, the significance of the last instruction that Jesus gave while upon this earth. He did not say, “Stand in your pulpits and sanctuaries and invite people to join your group.” Rather he said, “Go into all the world…”
Perhaps instead of spending all of our hours and efforts in discussing how to get people to come in, we should have been talking about how to get the members to go out.