The beginning of anything new is always difficult. It’s taking the first step toward whatever it is that needs to be changed or for me right now deciding how to begin this article. My first thought was to find a quote about change which led me to a website with 350 quotes. Yikes! But I did choose one and my reason for choosing it was because it is from Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday we will be celebrating this month. Seemed like a good reason and has merit for this article.
“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” Abraham Lincoln (Annual message to Congress, December 1, 1862)
I’m sure you are asking yourself, “What stormy present?” According to statistics provided by the United Church of Christ (UCC), only 17% of the population in the United States attends worship anywhere and the vast majority of people under the age of 25 have never stepped inside a church. This is our storm that we, along with many other churches, are facing.
At our Spectrum of Faith gathering 23 months ago led by Dr. Beverly Prestwood-Taylor, we began by singing, Be Thou My Vision. The objectives of that day were
To reflect on God’s calling to our church and how to follow Jesus
To enjoy the community
To learn about changes in the culture that churches are facing in the 21st century
To dream about how our congregation will grow in light of these changes
To create a way forward with specific ideas and people who will follow up
In the summary of this event (which will be posted on the bulletin board where our committee meetings are posted), this was the critical juncture. “We are at a critical juncture in church life. Many churches are closing. People no longer go to church because they have to. They go because they are seeking a spiritual experience of God in Christ. Hence, some churches are growing. These are the churches that provide authentic experiences and are aware of the need to communicate those experiences in ways that 21st century Christians can relate to, especially reaching out to 20-40 year olds.”
With that said, let’s now look back at Mr. Lincoln’s last sentence. “As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” The “we” is Second Congregational Church. Insert Second Congregational Church in for “we” and his sentence now becomes as our case is new, so Second Congregational Church must think anew and act anew.
Every committee, every member, every person who worships with us on Sunday is called to think anew and act anew if we are to Be Thou My Vision. Whose vision? Christ’s vision. It will require us, myself included, to no longer “dream” about how our congregation will grow but to take “action” with specific ideas and people who will follow up. We must see ourselves, our worship experience, our facilities, our programs with fresh eyes for changes that invite and inspire 21st century Christians seeking authentic spiritual experiences. What might that look like and what will it take? Every committee meeting regularly brainstorming new ideas or joining forces to collaborate on a project, fundraiser, or event,
Looking at our facilities for ways to make a more visually enhancing and engaging place of worship. Reading articles, books, researching ideas that abound on the Internet, dipping our feet into unknown waters to try something new led by our faith that God will be pleased by our desire to continue to do His work. Developing a culture of invitation in which everyone is regularly inviting others to create a diverse worship attendance, and most importantly not waiting for people to come to us but meeting people where they are in the community and introducing them to Christ through our church.
“The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.”
These changes may be difficult and may require more of our time, talent and treasure. We may have to step outside of our comfortable safety zones and learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable in order to be a vital church in the new century. Yet, we have this assurance “with God all things are possible.”