An interesting conversation after church yesterday with a bloke who usually worships at a small, dying ‘Piskie church.
And we went through the usual perceptions. Firstly, that it is natural for churches to be in decline. It is what we should expect. Except I know it isn’t. I was part of a team which turned round decline in a small church. I was there, it happened.
Secondly that ‘mission’ means ‘getting bums on seats’. Well, it does not. It means being there for others. It means service. Jesus spent all of his years in his active ministry telling his disciples that following him meant service, that the first jolly well ought to be last, and that anybody who thought they were a lord and master ought to find the waiter’s apron and put it on, and ask humbly what the others wanted for dinner – just how likely is it that he would ever, ever, think his church ought to be looking for people to join it in order to help pay the bills? Or for the sake of the institution in any way, shape or form?
Yet so ingrained in this way of thinking that conversations about mission keep on and on coming back to this point. ‘If we do this or that good bit of service, then we will get people to join us.’
And quite likely, yes, we will. Because generally speaking doing the right thing has a way of being attractive at least to some people. But the point of doing the right thing is what it has always been – that we should do the right thing. That we serve others because they need us.
And the point of encouraging others to be part of church? Because it is empowering. Because it keeps one headed in the right direction, the most fulfilling direction. I go to church on a Sunday because I want to, need to. Sometimes I am asked if it is because I feel guilty if I don’t. No, not at all. But I feel empty, or emptier. I feel unfulfilled. And there is absolutely no point in encouraging others to join you in church unless you think that they will feel fuller for going.
So spread the word. Mission has nothing to do with making the church grow (expect in the sense that the new people may well help the church grow in insight and spirituality), and everything to do with helping people grow.
And maybe if we all say it loud and clear, in the end somebody will hear.