Tuesday, September 10, 2013

It's Hard to Get My Head Around This

The last two days have been quite the whirl wind.  I have been training and working with a new addition to our congregation's staff: a part time youth director.

Sometimes, I have a hard time getting my head around this fact.

When I first started serving this congregation nine years ago, we had a baptized membership of 189.  Our average worship attendance was 65.  Most would have not considered it a viable congregation--at least not for a full time clergy.  Most would have considered it needing to be yoked to another church in a dual point parish.

Yet, the people here had a sense of call about them.  They rejected any such notions and wanted a full time pastor.  Not only this, they had discerned a call to add a part-time secretary--something they had never had in their history.

I came on board, and within a few months, we hired a secretary.  Life was good.

I arrived in Cat Spring from a large congregation in Seguin.  My previous congregation had nearly 1400 members, and the work load was intense.  I generally was up at the church 4 nights per week.  Sometimes, the meetings were grueling lasting two and a half to three hours.  After four years there, I was tired, worn out, ready for a change.

Coming to Cat Spring was very, very different.  There were hardly any meetings at all!   There wasn't a full staff.  But things were getting done, and getting done in a big way.

Congregational growth has been tremendous.  In those nine years, our membership has more than doubled to 430.  Our average worship attendance hovers at 120.  Of course, if we weeded out the "summer slump" we would be at 140-150.   Offerings are steady and very good.  People do things--good things on a consistent basis--without having meeting after meeting after meeting.

As the congregation has grown, we have consistently added staff.  First, the secretary.  Then, a worship and music director.  Then, came the leap of faith last year.  The congregation decided to seek a part-time youth director.  We budgeted for the position in the annual meeting, sent out advertizements, prayed, and waited.

Last week, the position was filled, and I woke up Monday, the head of a staffed congregation.

Now, at this point, there are some pastors who would begin telling you, "If you want your church and congregation to do the same thing, then here is what you need to do..."  I'm not going to do that because I really don't know what technique to use to make any church grow.  I really don't.  I don't know the magic pill to make a congregation take off and grow like gang busters.

Too often, I think our congregations become obsessed with a theology of glory--a proverbial step by step plan that leads to growing attendance, offerings, and participation.  If you do this, then you will be blessed by growth.   If you follow the Lord just right, then He will add numbers to your congregation.

Problem is--I've seen numerous congregations strive to follow the right steps and still experience no growth.  I've seen congregations throw out the welcome mat, make people feel warm and fuzzy, have all sorts of programming geared toward children, youth, young adult, middle-aged, and elderly; congregations who incorporate traditional and contemporary music; who become more conservative and more liberal, and nothing works.

I don't believe there is a secret formula to church growth or participation.  I think much of it, like salvation, rests upon God's work upon the individual believer.  I think much of it, like salvation, involves God's Spirit delving into the hearts and minds of people inspiring them to become a community of compassionate, caring, generous individuals who seek to do His will in the things they say and do.  I think church growth revolves around God's action and not our own.  Of course, we Lutherans proudly proclaim this to be Word, Sacrament, and the mutual conversation and consolation of the believers.  

I do not know what the final outcome will be as this congregation moves into the realm of a staffed congregation.  This congregation has never been there before.  Sometimes such a move is met with tons of blessings.  Sometimes, it so shakes the dynamics of the church that the opposite takes place.  We are dealing with an institution made up of humans, after all.  Yet, I keep reminding myself that it's not totally up to me.  It's not totally up to my secretary or my music director or my youth director.  Heck it's not totally up to the congregation members.  For without God, we could do nothing.  He makes the whole thing work, and if He needs me to lead a staff here at this church, I submit to His will.

I just have a hard time getting my head around it.

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