23 Easters are all we have left.
In a recently shared article in the "Washington Post" titled "If it doesn't stem its decline, mainline Protestantism has just 23 Easters left" the author said, "While the sky isn't falling, the floor is dropping out."
It seems the river of US culture has drifted further away from the bridge that is the Church in the mainline denominations. It isn't all that surprising. If we've paid attention at all over the last few decades we have heard the news. There is a difference now. There is an urgency. The warnings are coming from many indicators and more frequently. Our own Annual Conference had the fewest worshippers in 2016 than ever in history (less than 100,000). Does it get your attention? It does mine.
I am not trying to discourage us or make us fearful. Actually, my aim is the opposite. This is a time of great shifts, yet there is always hope and encouragement.
You see, God has always been, and still is, at work in the world. God's mission is to bring God's reign, God's kingdom. God is redeeming and renewing the world. God is love and God is life. Period.
If the Church of Jesus Christ, which is beyond the institution, finds ways to connect with people and let them know that God is love, then there is a future. If the Church can find ways to proclaim that the God of resurrection is the God who brings life out of death and light into darkness, there is a future.
The challenge is that people don't believe us. The Church has far too often exhibited behavior that is not in line with life, love, light, hope, renewal, or redemption.
So, why 23 years? That is when the baby-boomers will be far fewer in number and, at present trends, their children and grandchildren will be absent from the church and without faith of any kind. This influential and substantial generation has moved away from the bridge of their parents' churches. They are on the other side of the river, and most have a negative view of Church.
What are we to do? What are we willing to be, do and give so that our kids and grandkids can be a part of the Church again?
We are working to find ways to connect with new generations who are trying to traverse the cultural waters of our time. The future is bright and hopeful for churches like Mason UMC who have the courage to start building a span of bridge people will trust is safe to walk across. Our investment must be in decisions and actions that do not just stem the decline, but ramp up vitality and energy and urgency. We need to invite people into a new life in Christ that impacts their everyday world - nothing less will make a difference.
Joshua 1:9 "Be strong and courageous. Don't be fearful or discouraged, because the Lord your God is with you..."
This coming Saturday (8/19) at 5:00 we will embark on a new expression of church. The Gathering is a worship opportunity focused heavily on living missionally in community. The worship will have a coffeehouse environment. The sermons or teachings will not be the same as Sunday. We intend to attract people who are unresponsive to church as they have experienced it. (That may include some of you reading this right now!) Or, they may be persons who have quit listening to anything having to do with Christianity or religion. We want to express that following Jesus is a relationship. Some of the advertising and how we discuss the Gathering may not resonate with you. But remember, it is for an audience who is very different and can be very difficult to reach. We want to be genuine and attention-grabbing so our voice can be heard. You who have been part of church for years likely have a faith that is strong and matters greatly to you. But, as noted above, there are fewer of us every year. If we are to be heard by those who do not know Jesus, our methods of engagement must become bold. Saturday night is still an excellent option for you if you need to miss Sunday morning but still want to worship with your community. Give it a try.
This coming Sunday (8/20) we will make a significant shift in our Sunday morning worship experience. Two worship opportunities, one traditional and one contemporary, will be offered simultaneously at 10:00. Youth will gather at 9:30 prior to worshipping together and all Children's ministry is at 10:00. Adult Sunday School classes are as follows: 8:45- Nomads and Believers, and 9:00- The Word. There will be a small half-hour chapel-time at 8:35 for those who may have other obligations later in the day.
Of course, we can't forget Life Ministries that is gearing up and Sages for older adults. These new ways to reach people, nurture their faith, and send them out to serve are a significant part of our effort to be faithful to our vision.
What is significant is that we are not sitting by and allowing predictions to dictate our future. We are joining together to risk an attempt to build a new bridge. We are going on record to say, "We are not done speaking to our neighbors about the love of God in Jesus Christ. We are just getting started proclaiming the Kingdom of God. We will do what it takes to express the life that is abundant!"
I believe there are many more Easters to celebrate right here at Mason UMC if we are willing to take the chance that our story is just getting started and if we intend to live the next chapter right here and now, ...by God.
Thank you for being bold for God's Kingdom.
As difficult as it often becomes, Let's keep Vision in the driver's seat.