Response to "Empty Churches"

by: Larry Davies | Feb 27, 2011

Response to WSET-TV story – Empty Churches.
Over two days last week, WSET-TV aired a two-part special on the church called: Empty Churches.
If you missed the stories, here is the web address:
Part one featured two of our United Methodist Churches as mostly empty on Sunday morning.
Part two showed “Tree of Life” as a church that was full and attracting thousands.
I’m disappointed that two of our United Methodist churches that were making a difference in the midst of church struggles were used as examples of empty churches while none were used as examples of churches making a positive difference.
Court Street UMC was struggling with less attendance. New leadership and changes have not only helped the church do better but one of their younger members is now seeking the ordained ministry.
Fairview UMC recently became a distributor for Backpack for Kid’s Sake for one of our Elementary students and each week packs enough food for over 150 children to have plenty to eat each weekend. Fairview is also doing better.
I was upset that our churches were portrayed in a way that was not suggestive of how we are doing as a whole. These were two churches who in their own unique way are dealing with those issues with success as is our whole district.
And, why “Tree of Life” as the example of success when there are so many others? Why not use a United Methodist Church here as well in order to be more consistent?
I have known and admired Rev. Mike Dodson, the pastor of Tree of Life for years and I know he would be the first to say that his church is not the only answer to reaching out to the community in the name of Jesus Christ.
As I have spent the last two and half years travelling across the district I have come to love the pastors and churches in our area. I appreciate the hard work, enthusiasm and commitment that comes from each church.
But… the basic premise of the story, unfortunately, is true.
Overall church attendance is declining in America. More people sit at home on Sunday morning than go to church.
Mainline churches are declining while independent churches are growing. Many of our churches, including United Methodist churches in this area have more empty pews than full. Even the two churches mentioned struggle with filling empty pews.
Tree of Life is a positive example of how churches in the midst of decline are growing rapidly. We may not always agree with their theology or their style of worship but they are successfully reaching the unchurched.
Now… what should my response be?
Should I be upset that churches I serve and love were portrayed in a less than positive light? Sure. But that is a reflection of my pride rather than a legitimate response.
A better question would be: “How would God want me to respond?”
I think God would ask: “What can we do as churches to better reach out into the community for people who should be sitting in those empty pews?”
In Matthew 28, Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (18-20)
Jesus is given all authority. Our response should be…
Make disciples and baptize them…
Teach the disciples…
Jesus will be with us, even now when we struggle to fill empty churches.
Do we have enough passion for reaching out to the unchurched? Are we serious about offering the “Good News” of Jesus Christ to our friends and neighbors?
The truth is… we can do better.
Maybe this is the needed response to our 30 day prayer challenge. We’ve reached day 29 and like many of you I have been praying regularly for God to guide and direct us. What should be our big dream? How do we form those good teams?
So… how should we respond to the Empty Churches story?
God’s answer would be: reflection, repentance, prayer and a call for action.
Reflection because we do need to think about where we are today as the church and what our future could look like if we are not willing to make changes.
Repentance because we are not reaching the unchurched community as we should and we want to do better.
Prayer for God’s guidance as we ask for creative ideas that will help us get to know our neighbors better. Prayer for courage as we learn to share our testimony in a way that will be understood and appreciated.
Action as we assertively look to offer specific acts of kindness and ministry toward others in a way that visibly demonstrates our love for God and for them.
Rev. Mike Dodson with Tree of Life said something challenging and helpful when describing his church: “Our three things are being creative, innovative, and demonstrative.”
As churches, he was not saying, we should be more like “Tree of Life.” He was saying within our own beliefs and practices…
·         Be more creative in the way we worship and teach.
·         Be more innovative in the way we plan programs.
·         Be more demonstrative in the way we reach out to others.
Good advice but a huge challenge.
Jesus is given all authority. Our response should be…
Make disciples and baptize…
Teach the disciples…
Jesus will be with us, even now when we struggle to fill empty churches.
This is the biggest dream of all… make disciples and baptize.
This is the greatest team of all… teach the disciples.
Here is the greatest truth of all: Jesus will be with us.

Long after everyone has forgotten about the “Empty Churches” story on TV, our churches will continue to grow stronger by making disciples and teaching, secure in the knowledge that Jesus will be with us always, even to the end of the age.


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