What to you is the purpose of the church? Fellowship? Worship of God? Help to live your life? Outreach into the community? Learning about God? Somewhere to get cared for? Spiritual and/or religious? Connections? To God? To others? To different generations? A place to use your gifts and talents?
A number of studies, including the most recent survey by The Observer , the United Church’s magazine – and if you don’t subscribe, I’d recommend it ($20/year is not a big investment for a big return) – tell us what the United Church has to offer is what many “spiritual but not religious” people are looking for, but we’re a well-kept secret. How is that possible?
What are the most important things for the church to be doing? And why does nobody know we’re here? We can blame social changes: Sunday shopping and sports; more non-Christian, Evangelical, and Roman Catholic immigrants; young people who were raised on computer games and social media. However, as a church, we also have to take responsibility. We haven’t figured out how to bridge the gap, how to be visible, how to reach out. Some don’t even think it matters. As long as they’re happy, they’re satisfied.
For those who do want to widen the circle, what do we need to do? There isn’t a magical solution. Successful mainline churches do have some common characteristics:
listening – they pay attention to their neighbours and the community’s needs
spiritual deepening – they connect to the Spirit in energizing ways
visibility – through how they respond to the community, they are seen and known
authenticity – they don’t pretend to be what they’re not, but are open to what they can by grace become
Where is Forest Hill doing well? How can we do better?
Jesus taught crowds and disciples, healed, and went off by himself to pray: “But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray. (Luke 5: 15-16) Jesus is a model for us of how to be. Churches that are only turned inward are irrelevant to others. Churches that are only turned outward become disconnected. What is needed is a healthy balance.