That Time I Crushed the Enthusiasm of a Nice Man in Church

I was talking with a group of church folks about why their Church Flyercongregation had dwindled down to a handful.  On a good Sunday, there are twelve people in worship.

Are we not friendly enough?  Are “kids today” just not interested in God?  Do we need to install a spotlight in front of the building to shine on our church sign?

Then one very nice man said: 

“Look at these flyers we made to hand out at the community fireworks on The Fourth of July.”

He was the kind of person who volunteers to clean out the gutters of the church building so they don’t have to pay for a professional.  And he showed me the kind of flyer that so many churches share at community events with worship information featuring a photo of the church building.

This isn’t going to work,” I said  – which turned his enthusiasm into defensiveness.  I definitely could have said something less direct, but these are urgent times, especially for a congregation with less than 20 members.  I tried to say it with a pastoral voice.  But clearly this wasn’t the response the nice man was expecting.

It was as if he had been saying, “We are trying.  We are trying to reach out. We are trying to grow.  Look – we even made the effort to create flyers to hand out to strangers.

But then came the kicker:

Me:  Why do you want new people to come join your church?

Nice Man:  Because we need them to help us pay the bills.

Me:  But that’s not a very appealing invitation, is it?

What I wanted to say next:

  • Your congregation has reached a point of no return.  
  • People are not going to come join your church because of flyers.
  • Our culture has changed, but your congregation hasn’t made comparable changes.

But I didn’t say these things.  These are nice people.  It was enough to say that their flyer wasn’t going to work.

Making “improvements” in our ministry – whether we are talking about flyers or a new church sign, or even a new pastor – is not enough to turn our congregations around.  It’s too late and a culture is too entrenched for many of our congregations.  The most faithful and certainly the boldest thing that they can do is decide to close joyfully, sharing whatever resources they have with congregations that are energized for missional ministry.  This would create something that merely making “improvements” cannot possibly achieve:  a legacy of resurrection.

This is not a grievous decision.  It’s a gracious and generous decision.  But – sadly – when I say it out loud, it crushes some very nice people.

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7 responses to “That Time I Crushed the Enthusiasm of a Nice Man in Church

  1. Pingback: » That Time I Crushed the Enthusiasm of a Nice Man in Church

  2. Do you have stories of “seemingly similar” churches that broke through the barriers into resurrection?

    • I do but it takes lots of conversation about shifting the culture. (eg let’s take Popsicles to the park on a hot day to share with kids but not tell them we are from a church. It’s about service not getting new members.)

  3. Sadly this is true of so many… having just been through the process of searching for a call, I saw an awful lot of churches who were looking for “magic wands” to bring in the “young people” and to keep their legacy going. The church I am going to realizes that they are in the midst of a retirement and resort community but are actually eager to become even more involved in the community, regardless of whether or not it brings in members. That is not their focus… and because of that, I believe, they will attract new members!

  4. Pingback: Wednesday Festival Randomness | RevGalBlogPals

  5. Harvey Blomberg (retired Mission Director for the ELCA) used to say that “At funerals, we never say that someone is a failure because they died.” In the same way, there is no shame in a church dying. The important thing is for churches to be faithful to the gospel while they are alive.

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