Hope for a Hopeless Church

By Zac Harmon-McLaughlin

Every time I log onto Facebook or Twitter or any social media outlet, my news feed will undoubtedly show an article or two. I get articles such as, “10 Reasons Millennials Are Leaving Your Church” or “Why I Left Church” or “Brunch is My New Worship.” Do you know what I’m talking about? Have you experienced this?

If this weren’t enough reason to cause fear or anxiety about the state of faith, many churches are struggling financially. This includes my own, Community of Christ. I know that for most of us declining numbers cause fear and concern about our future. When we see a decline of people in the pews and a decline of contributors, somehow we think the “church” is dying.

I want to tell you why this is not true. I want to tell you how I am seeing faith explode in the everyday. I want to tell you that numbers do not dictate God’s wonderful and profound movement. I want to share with you HOPE. I want to share with you the vision and shifting identity of the missional church.

A few weeks ago I sat with a friend for lunch. We had met a few months earlier when he first walked into our congregation. We shared about our passions and faith. He told me he wanted to be baptized! I was amazed and excited. See, I was in doubt, worrying whether my faith was relevant. But in that moment I understood that my faith is not controlled by Sunday morning traditions or experiences. My faith is enlivened by the tangible development of relationships that create and empower an authentic Community of Christ. The church is not dying—it is growing! It is moving through vulnerability and courage to share and extend a hand of extravagant hospitality.

I am humbled by the presence of spirit and vision in a congregation I am working with. This is a congregation, perhaps like yours, that has few in the pews on Sunday morning. Month after month, they host a dinner for people who may not be able to afford dinner out. They gather a community of over 100 to break bread with one another. As I watch this event unfolding I see the reality of Christ being present. There is hugging, smiling, sharing of stories, laughing, and handshakes. Most important, they are forming community. Church is happening before my eyes. There are no hymns or sermons, but there are prayers and the breaking of bread.

They also host a biweekly gathering for youth from the neighborhood to explore the sacredness of creation. This ministry culminates with a week long camp in the summer. Over 100 youth and 30 youth volunteers celebrate God’s creation. This is where mission begins. Right here with encounter!

Another congregation I serve offers a monthly food pantry for their small rural community. I share with them in this experience. It took two days of work to make it happen. I heard from person after person the importance of Community of Christ for them and their community. They shared how the Community of Christ was a blessing for them in their life. Person after person shared how they look forward to seeing one another. They don’t use these words but: they are creating a community where Christ thrives! This is what Community of Christ enduring principles and mission initiatives look like!

When did we stop believing in the scripture from Matthew 18:20? – “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” When did the success or spiritual capacity of a congregation become tied to the number of people attending on Sunday morning or budget?

Being missional is responding to our discipleship not with an agenda for creating mega churches or extravagant programs, but rather living into the movements of God around and through us in our communities and contexts. The missional church is not a church concerned with numbers or budget. The missional church, courageously, moves forward with a powerful stubborn hope in a culture full of doubt, anxiety, and fear communicated in articles on our news feed. We are reminded, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Henri Nouwen reminds us in his book, Reaching Out, “Therefore, as the people of God, we are called ekklesia (from the Greek kaleo=call; and ek=out), the community called out of the old world into the new.” I could go on and on with story after story, experience after experience, of the church growing and becoming. The truth is I don’t need to. When we pay attention and open our eyes, we have our own stories of hope and possibility. The church is not without hope and the church is not dying. The church is shifting, which is an indication that we are becoming.

May we become ekklesia. May we go into a world groaning with suffering, division, hunger, and fear and proclaim a movement that promotes communities of joy, hope, love and peace. May we become who Christ has called us to be and embrace the mission of Jesus Christ in a world challenged by apathy and a loss of hope. May we have stubborn hope and passionately, courageously, and vulnerably respond through everyday encounters with the living God. I certainly understand the complexities and difficulties, but I am not concerned with numbers or budget. I am empowered and inspired by Christ’s mission and encouraged by HOPE.

“The most important question for a missional church is not about long-term survival. It is about how we passionately pursue Christ’s mission in a suffering world that groans for the liberating truths of the gospel (Doctrine and Covenants 155: 7).” – Steve Veazey – April 2011

Reblogged from the Missional Leaders Blog