Sermon July 24th, 2016 by Shelley Needham
The title is not a typo, nor is it as redundant as it sounds.
I chose this title, because this is something that has been weighing heavily on my mind. I believe it was when Rex preached before the congregation, or maybe it was when he talked to us about his vision for the new building, but one thing he said has really stuck with me, and his comment was this:
If something were to happen to this church tomorrow, and we were no longer here, would anyone in the community notice?
I would like to think that our church would be missed. I would like to think that we would leave a huge hole in the community, that people would wonder if the community will ever be the same without us, and worry about how they are going to fill the needs our vacancy leaves behind.
Sadly, I don’t think that is the case. I actually think that it is the opposite. Other than the kids in Awana, there may be a few people that would remember that a church was once here, or look back with nostalgia—remembering a relative bringing them to Sunday school here as a child, or recalling Scout meetings here, or even VBS. The food pantry might miss us a little bit, and the other churches in the area would have to change the schedule for the community Thanksgiving and Easter services, but I’m afraid that the vast majority of people would hardly notice the difference. In fact, if you ask most of the young families in the community, I doubt 75% even know that we are here. The sad truth is, I just don’t believe that we are very relevant anymore.
It is not just us, and I don’t want to say that we as a congregation don’t try, but everything in society is working against all churches right now. There are those in government desiring power for themselves that see belief in God as an impediment to achieving ultimate power over the people and so try to undermine organized religion. Societally, morality is now seen as something to be ashamed of, and those that try to teach or adhere to moral values are called “haters”, because we have lost our sense of right and wrong and don’t want anyone to judge how we chose to find our pleasure.
Our entertainment bombards us with immorality and sexual promiscuity as the new norm. Holy days and religious Holidays have become secularized to the point that they no longer hold any of their original meaning, and where we once had Sundays and Wednesday evenings as “church” days, they are now just another day, to be filled with sporting events and practices, even by our small home-town schools. Even insurance companies have led to the decline of church relevance by making it necessary to keep church doors locked instead of open to the community. Gone are the days you can just step into any church to pray in a time of trouble or when you need comfort.
So what is the role of the church in today’s society, and what do we do about it? The biblical definition of the church comes from the Greek work ecclesia which means a called out company or assembly. It always refers to the people, rather than a specific building. There were the Jews, the Gentiles (everyone who wasn’t a Jew), and the Church, those of both those groups who believed in Christ and his teachings. In Ephesians 1:22-23 the Bible states that God placed all things under Christ’s feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body. As the body of Christ, we are the hands, mouth, and feet of Christ on earth. We are to do the work of Christ by glorifying God, serving others and seeking out those who are lost. Each member of the Church has been given gifts by God to fulfill those tasks.
Specifically, we of the Church are told to study and learn the word of God so that we can live it and teach it to others. We are to fellowship together to help us grow in faith, and grace, and knowledge. We are to go into the world with the gospel, to bring new members into the body of Christ. We are to pray for one another and love one another, and care for those in need. The church is also called to have pastors, elders, deacons, teachers and other leaders so that the members are well enough versed in scripture to discern error, to know how to proclaim the gospel to the lost, and to discipline members where and when needed to maintain the purity of the church.
If we want to see what we need to do today to grow the relevance of our church, we need to see how the early church experienced such rapid growth. In Acts 2:42-47, the bible describes the early believers: “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teachings and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had a need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
We aren’t going to have the apostles performing miraculous sign and wonders, but looking at this description as a model, I can see how we can implement a number of things to help build more church relevance today.
The one thing that really jumps out at me in these passages is fellowship. Now we just experienced a week of intense fellowship with VBS. It was a lot of fun. Zeke loved it, and was really sad that it ended. But for our adult members with busy lives, it was also a little (okay a LOT) draining. There was a lot of preparation that went into it, and keeping up that level of fellowship is REALLY hard. We just wouldn’t be able to maintain something like that with our small congregation on a daily basis. I do, however think that the future of the church lies in reaching out to the kids and young families in the community, as well as meeting our own needs. Here is where I am finally gaining an understanding of Rex and Kandice’s vision for our church. Once I really comprehended what we could be, I became very excited about our future.
Let me say first of all, that I wasn’t necessarily enthusiastic about the changes that have been proposed in the last few years. I’m the kind of person who gets something the way I like it and don’t see any reason to change it, ever. We have experienced some pretty major losses of long-time church members which have caused change enough. In addition, going to more contemporary Christian music (which I’m not a huge fan of), leaving PCUSA, changing the building color, tearing down the manse, have all been difficult for me, although I saw the necessity in each move.
The new building has also been something that was hard for me to get on board with. I didn’t see how we could think to spend so much money with such a small congregation and expect to not bankrupt ourselves. I also worried that it would be just one more building on our property sitting empty 95% of the time that we would have to maintain, when heating and cooling costs already strain our budget.
The change came about a year ago with a dream. I had been worrying about our church and even contemplating leaving as I just didn’t feel a part of it anymore. In my dream we had our church, but now it was more like a home. There were comfy couches and bean bags on the floor instead of cold metal folding chairs. Kids were lounging around doing homework or on Wi-Fi. There were bible study groups, kids watching Christian movies and playing games in the new building. There were teenagers practicing music. Suddenly my resistance melted away, and I saw what real fellowship looked like. I saw a way that we could become a relevant part of the community. Not as a building open for 2 hours on Sunday, and locked up the rest of the week, but as a vital community center. A place where people wanted to be, where you could go and hang out in a wholesome environment, where kids would be exposed to God on a daily basis.
Since then, I have been having fun brainstorming. If we are actually going to have a new building, it can’t just sit empty. It has to be relevant too, or it is a massive waste of time and money. Rex wants the kids to be able to practice basketball. Currently the only days the elementary kids have to practice is Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons, because the gyms are being used by the older kids. This means that if you do sports, you can’t go to Wednesday night Church or Awana. I like Rex’s plan, but there is so much more we can do.
What about a latchkey program for kids from 3 to 6 every day during the school year? We could have afterschool snacks available and kids could come to the church to study, watch Veggie Tales or other Christian or family oriented programs, they could play basketball, and we can have board games or jig saw puzzles available. During the winter months, it would give the kids something to do, a place to go after school instead of just sitting at home, getting into trouble, or roaming the streets until their parents get home. In the summer we could offer lunches and let the kids, and maybe senior citizens as well come in for a healthy meal and to escape the heat while they enjoy each other’s company.
I would also like to revive a MOPs program or Mother’s Support Group like we had a number of years ago. We could also do a parents’ night out once a month, and fifth quarter.
Another thought I had was every Sunday night after Awana have a Spaghetti or chili supper. We could cook in the big new kitchen, just throw stuff together and heat it up so Awana families can eat together and no one has to cook a meal at home.
Although I think our future lies with bringing in the kids, with the hope that families will follow, we also can’t neglect the needs of our older members. I hate that so much is focused on the kids, that the adults are too busy doing those activities that they have no time for fellowship themselves.
Ilona has wanted me to lead a quilting group, which I would LOVE to do. We could make quilts for project Linus or Quilts of Valor, or even make quilts as fundraisers such as the Mennonites do. These would all be ways to serve and fellowship at the same time. Even handwork groups of knitters or crocheters making prayer shawls, hats for preemies, etc. would be a lot of fun. I also love the idea of Kandice’s bible journaling group. Even though I didn’t really have the opportunity to participate with Zeke being so dependent, if we have a place where the kids can play while the adults do activities, it would be so nice and get more families involved in things like that.
There could be cooking classes or cake decorating. We could offer Zumba classes to contemporary Christian music and invite the community. The men could also have a study group, just for them, where they can meet and discuss the bible, family life, work, cars, or whatever else it is men discuss. And we could have the men mentor our older teen and young adult men who don’t really have a place any more now that Dan is gone. Our Operation Christmas Child program could really grow with more space to store items and assemble boxes. We would have room for bereavement groups or support groups to meet, and be able to rent out the large room for receptions or craft shows, and hold Christian concerts.
There are so many wonderful ways we can serve the community if we had a nice large space available. We just need to have the commitment to do it. We can’t build a building and then sit at home expecting other people to do everything. Our Church home needs to truly be a home away from home where we want to spend time, just like the early Christians did, or the pilgrims who settled our country and set up Christ centered communities. I think we could really offer something great, but it will depend on every one of us to make it happen.
Please be thinking and praying about the possibilities in the weeks to come. To build this building will require time and money to complete and we need everyone on board if we are going to go ahead with it. My greatest fears are building, and then basically letting it sit empty while we struggle to pay off a huge debt, or not building and continuing to become increasingly irrelevant to the point that we are effectively dead. We can’t build with the idea that a building will bring people in, but we need to bring people into our building and give them an experience they want to repeat. Then we will truly be building relevance.
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