Thursday, April 24, 2008

Numbers 2

Alright, let's continue this conversation.

What makes me a connectional person? Interaction is so integral to my life. Why is that? Where does that come from? Is it a generational thing? It intrigues me, generational theories and characteristics.

The young people did AMAZINGLY! There were six of them, they spoke around the arena. They talked about their various experiences as individuals - one from Russia where Protestant religion is frowned upon, to the point that Protestant youth and young adults often lie to their parents about going to youth. One from Nebraska who discussed the right/left dichotomy of our church and county (and world) and how he chose a third path of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. A young adult clergy person who talked about the 20/30 ministry she's begun in her congregation. A young African American youth who spoke of the ministry that's needed to the poor, disenfranchised, sick, and left out.

Simplicity. Action. Faith with works. Their call was to the now. Yes, you call us the church of the future, but if we keep talking about the future and what the future will do, and don't focus on the now, there will be no future. We are ready, was the call. Are you?

I don't know about you, but I'm getting a little sick of numbers. So far, if I'm not mistaken, every speaker has mentioned the fact that the UMC is losing members. By this percentage, at this rate, this many in this number of years.

I understand we need people. We need numbers. We need to constantly be growing, stretching, reaching new people, or else we seriously do become irrelevant and ineffective in the simple fact that we don't exist. But it's the same thing as money. If money is our focus, then our ministry is off the mark, in my opinion. If numbers is our focus, then our ministry is off the mark. The problem isn't that we need to bring in new people, it's that we need to transform the ones who are already here, so that others will be drawn to us, because in us they see the face of God. It reminds me of that insurance commercial where the two people are touring the Hoover Dam, and there's a leak. Instead of finding out the root of the problem, the woman just takes out her gum and plugs the hole.

When someone joins my local church, their picture is taken and hung on the board to show the new members. There's a story told that one day, someone joined the church, and after the service asked, "what now?" and the response was "well, you get your picture taken and that's it." Humorous little story, but holy cow, what a message. That's not it. That's only the beginning. As our pastor says, come as you are, but don't expect to stay as you are.

My fear is as we focus on numbers, we return to or enforce the "you have your picture taken and that's it" mindset. Numbers, numbers, numbers. We just want names on our list. Never mind if they come back to anything, or have a transforming experience with Christ, we've got their name, and it's there for at least 5 years!

Even now, as I'm half listening to the Laity address, that's what I'm picking up - we need to invive people to come to church, we can't count on the pastors to grow the membership, we as laity have to be the ones to bring people into the church. What about what we do with them once they're there?

Her three points:
1. Invite, Invite, Invite
2. Carry the name of Jesus with you in missions
3. Claim one personal ministry.
Okay, I'm with the last one. Well, I'm with them all. Collectively. Like the Fruit of the Spirit - you have to take all of them, you can't pick and choose.

I fear this is our direction in our conference with this new vision of reaching out to the unchurched. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I'm all about reaching out. But what about the ones who are here? I'm all about the future, but what about the now? The language we still use when talking about youth and young adults is that we're the future. No! We're the present, as much as the 72 year old delegate is the present. We're so concerned with who's not here, that I'm afraid we forget about the ones who are.

I'm guilty of this too. I have to acknowledge that. I get so concerned with the young person's vote, I forget that there is a large contingency of young people who are here, speaking, moving, transforming.

And so the call is to the present. We are here. Now, in the present. What are we doing with this present time?

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