If you want your church to survive and see the next decade, figure out how to say “yes” to new ideas.
I still receive newsletters from many of the churches I’ve served, and when I do I always check two things: (1) The calendar of activities ; and (2) the attendance figures, if given.
As I look at the calendar of activities I am saddened to see the same things that they were doing when I was there—10, 15, 20 years ago are being done today. Same old, same old. year after year after year! As I look at attendance, it is steadily dwindling for these churches And church membership rolls are losing more to death than gaining new Christians.
There is a connection between the above two. I believe that the only way to turn things around is for the church to start saying “yes” to some new ideas. Actually the ideas are not new at all. Somehow between now and the time Jesus spent on earth the church has forgotten the message that Jesus brought. Jesus’ message was one of proclaiming something new—The Kingdom of God on earth—a new and transforming way to live according to the principles found in the gospels and his life and ministry that was summarized in the Beatitudes in Mathew. His message about living in the Kingdom was a complete turning upside down of all the rules and regulations and greed and hatred and exclusiveness of the temple religion and the way people related to each other at his time —it was the good news, a gospel of love of God, neighbor. Jesus message proclaimed that God loved all peoples, especially the poor, the widow, the outsider, the excluded, the homeless, the sick,, the mentally ill, foreigners, those at the “bottom of the barrel in society.
Those disciples and early Christians who followed Jesus attempted to live out these ideas. That is why we read in Acts that religious authorities were complaining about them—“these Christians have turned the world upside down.
Groups of followers of Jesus gathered together and received the Holy Spirit and then were guided by that Spirit of God in all that they did. They gathered often to help each other live out the “Great Commandment” that Jesus said summed up all the foregoing law and prophets: “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and your neighbor as yourself!. They were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Acts speaks often of Jesus’s followers being “filled with the Spirit—the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised his disciples that would come after he departed the earth and would be their counselor and their guide and inspiration. Filled with this Spirit, from the day of Pentecost, the disciples and the early church did things that seemed impossible, for example—Peter, who had denied Jesus in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial, boldly proclaimed the resurrection and the Kingdom of God at the risk of his life. Followers of Jesus endured persecution and death in order to stay faithful to this one, Jesus, who had changed and transformed their lives, and worked together to spread the good news of God’s transforming love and the new way of living in the Kingdom of God.
What we need to say “yes” to is the Holy Spirit. We need to say “yes” to welcoming the Spirit into our lives individually. We need churches who say “yes” to the Holy Spirit and look toward the Spirit’s guidance. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and churches that are full of the Spirit of God are churches that survive and grow because they are not into religion but into transformation.
In a world full of challenges, in a time like ours, we can’t settle for a heavy and fixed religion. We cannot contain God’s Spirit in such boxes as we build and call churches. They are not churches—-they are buildings. Jesus did not come to build a new religion, but that is what we have done. Instead of following him on the Way we have turned Jesus into a religion. As Rohr says: ” We worshipped Jesus instead of following Him on the same path”
Jesus transformed lives on a hillside, in a house, wherever people gathered. He reached out to ALL people and told them and showed them that God loved them not just in words but in actions showing the love.. To be loved by God is to be transformed, and to be transformed is to reach out to others in God’s name and seek their transformation.
When the church accepts the “new” idea that their mission is one of changing and transforming lives and sees it’s mission as one of changing and transforming the lives of those around them by following the teachings and example of Jesus, then, as in Acts: “the Lord will add daily to their numbersl
Congregations that are full of God’s Spirit are full of people!