From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures
Hopefully you have begun to hear about the Future Directions that we adopted in our Synod meeting last year. The vision of our Future Directions is to be a Contemporary, Courageous and Growing Church. One aspect of that growing is expressed as: “We will lead large, healthy and younger congregations”.
As we speak about growing a larger church it is easy to misunderstand this as being growth for the sake of growth. In this misunderstanding it looks like we are about recruiting people just to make ourselves bigger. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that (mis)understanding very appealing or inspiring.
If we are going to talk about growth in the size of the Uniting Church through growth in the size of our congregations, we need to frame that growth in terms that are not about us. Too often it is about us. Listen to a church member who wants to see new people joining the congregation so that the new people can take over running the church just the way we like it to be run. Sound familiar? In this case the growth is about us – we want to recruit people to run the church how we like it.
Rev Molly Phinney Baskette in Real Good Church helps us to reframe growth in terms that are not about us. She says: “we want to grow not to make the church viable for ourselves – people will know if we just see them as warm bodies to pack pews – but we want to grow because there are people out there who need a place and people like us.”
I find that reframing by Molly to be inspiring. We are organising ourselves for growth not for our own sakes but for the sake of people in the world who need a place and a people like us.
Please hear me clearly, saying “there are people out there who need a place and people like us” is not a licence for saying that we don’t need to change. Rather, the point is we want to grow for the sake of the people who are not already part of our congregations. For their sake, it is highly probable that we will need to change.
In being a church that organizes itself for growth for the sake of people who are not already part of our congregations, we will change from being a people for ourselves to being a people for others. We will change to being people who make outsiders feel like insiders – Jesus said that those who lose their lives for his sake and for the sake of the gospel will find it. In this regard, Molly says of her congregation: “We take this teaching seriously. …. Those who lose their pew, their place in the coffee hour line, their privileged time with the pastor, their role as the only extrovert in the church – they give up these privileges so that someone new can find their way in to their future church home.”
These very practical changes are cast by Molly as being part of our discipleship in being formed more into the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Again, it is not about us. This time it is about the call on our lives by Jesus Christ.
As you think and act to re-organize the Uniting Church for growth, know that it is not growth for our sakes, rather it is growth for the sake of people who need a people and place like us. And the changes we make for that growth are about the call of Jesus Christ on our lives.