Following the release of the Uniting Church census data, Rev Paul Clark offers some of what he has learned while ministering with churches that bucked the downward trend.
In a previous parish an “expert” came through and said, “If you preach the gospel, the church grows”. I challenged him on that because it implies most churches are not preaching the gospel! When our culture was warm towards Christianity, preaching, sacraments and visiting might have been all you needed to grow, but in a hostile culture it takes more than that.
First, there’s a bunch of things you can’t do much about: location, population decline, wider culture, brand reputation, resources, life cycle. Sometimes no matter what we do a congregation won’t grow in size. Churches go through seasons, and if you’re stuck in winter, you’ve just got to get through! “Winter” ministry is very important and some have great gifts for it. It can be tough but remember, one day the sower and the reaper will celebrate together!
Second, hope! We hear so much about church decline that it seems there is no hope for the church. Don’t believe it. The greatest thing I bring to my congregations is a belief that the best is yet to come! I won’t sugar coat it: It’s going to take change and effort. But God still changes hearts and the church is still growing.
Third, you’ve got to go! You’ve got to get out of your building and tangibly engage the community in service and evangelism. Don’t just talk about it from the pulpit: go. Show and tell the good news. It’s contagious, and it changes the perception of the church in the community. Jesus called us salt, but the world doesn’t care about our “purity” ministry until it’s tasted our flavour.
Finally, contemporise your worship. Jesus came to a time and place and spoke their language. We must do the same. If you believe your current worship is timeless you are wrong. It was developed for a culture. We cannot escape culture, it’s part of the human experience. Jesus comes to culture, then transcends it.
Paul is minister with Redcliffe Uniting Church.