Yesterday's (11/15/09) worship service in our congregation addressed the topic "Hearing God's call." This topic became an opportunity for me to share with the congregation how I believe God is calling Central into the future.
(On another note, some may wonder if I have "heard God's voice." If you mean "hear" in the same sense that I audibly hear your voice when we speak, then no, I have not "heard God's voice." But, if you mean "do you have a strong sense that what I said is what God desires we do, then yes, I have "heard God" and will stake everything on it.)
My sermon application had three points...
First, we are a declining, downtown congregation. I've had the opportunity to study downtown congregations like ours, and they have similar stories, regardless of city or denominational affiliation. Downtown used to be the place of activity in the city. Lots of people went to church, and they went to downtown churches. The churches thrived.
But then the suburbs came along, and activity (residents and businesses) moved out there. The founding members of the church continued to drive downtown to church, but eventually their children did not. That left most of us with aging, declining congregations, in large buildings we neither fully utilize nor maintain.
With the movement to the suburbs, the downtown began to deterioriate. Crime, drugs, prostitutiton and homelessness became the norm for downtown life. For those who lived in the suburbs but continued to worship downtown, the people who now lived near the church were to be avoided, even feared. They were not "our neighbor" (see Matthew 22:37-39). Downtown was not "safe," so we drove to church, and entered the relative safety of our rather fortress-like structures.
Central's story is similar. But this leads to point 2...
I am not afraid of this, and you should not be either!!! Why not? See the scripture at the top of the blog. At a moment in Israel's history where the voice of God was rare, God spoke! And what God said "would make the ears of everyone who hears it tingle." (What a marvelous thing! By the way, what are your ears doing right now?) Churches do turn around. They turn around by getting excited about the poeple with whom they worship, and the ways they interact with the community around them. Everyone has their own story, but it can be done.
How? I'm glad you asked, because this gets us to point 3...
The way forward for our congregation involves three things: commitment to regular worship, commitment to our Sunday School class, and involvement in the Sunday School class outreach project. That is, as I see it, our "minimum turnaround investment."
- Come to worship, give praise to God and hear how much God loves you.
- Come to Sunday School (or some other small group which may be created), and be in relationship with a smaller segment of the congregation. Pray for one another, receive care, laugh with us, and study God's word together.
- Participate in outreach and witness. Help us "seek the peace and prosperity of the city" where we live (Jeremiah 29:7). Come with us to Highland Park Elementary School, the Roanoke Rescue Mission, or share your offerings for Second Harvest Food Bank. Allow God to stretch you as we reach outside the walls of our church with a message of salvation, justice, and hope.
My sermon, and this blog entry, have no conclusion. The conclusion will be told by our accepting (or rejecting, ignorning, or avoiding) this challenge.
Only one thing remains...Who is with me?