February 2012

Growing

On the door frame around the entrance to my office at home there are a series of pencil marks inching their way up toward the top.  Each pencil mark has a name and a date next to it.  Some include a note indicating whether the mark was made wearing shoes or not.  You may have a similar set of marks somewhere in your home.  These marks track the growth of our sons in terms of their height.  It struck me recently that we don’t have marks tracking our sons’ growth in weight or other dimensions (like the size of their shirts, pants, or shoes).  Somewhere in the house are boxes with photographs and others with old report cards.  These too reflect our sons’ growth in other ways.  In all these ways, we affirm the importance of growth for our lives.

            Growth is important for a church as well.  Over the past five years, we have welcomed many new members into the family of our church.  We have also said goodbye to many members of longstanding, who have moved away from this area, or moved on to God’s eternal embrace.  Overall, our membership may be about the same as five years ago, or maybe a little less.  Either way, we can’t say that we are growing much, at least numerically.  Of course there are other kinds of growth that are important.  They may be even more important, but they are also more difficult, if not impossible, to measure.  How are we growing in terms of our depth of faith, our understanding of Scripture, our experience of God, our devotion to Christ, our warmth of fellowship, and our service to the community?  Though immeasurable, these are more important than our numbers; what would be the point of having a big church if these elements of our life together were in sad shape?

            Nonetheless, growth in membership and attendance can greatly enhance all these other qualities of a church.  There tends to be more energy, more programs, more variety of activities, more spirit when there are more people.  God is able to challenge us, encourage us, and help us grow spiritually through the faith others who may be like us and unlike us.  Something as simple and as central as our experience of worship is greatly affected by how full or how empty the pews are.  Everyone feels the swell of sound and energy when the sanctuary is full at Christmas and Easter.  When visitors come to worship with us, they get a sense of what’s happening, or not, from the attendance.  How wonderful it would be if we grew with new people coming to our church, and with our current members coming more frequently!

            Here’s an idea for you to consider for Lent.  Many Christians make Lent a more intentional time for more attention to their spiritual lives.  Traditionally that included some degree of fasting, prayer, and study.  There has been an element of sacrifice through both giving up something(s) and taking on something(s).  Last year, we promoted the idea of an effort at fasting from our excessive use of carbon.   For Lent this year, I’d like us all to consider committing to attend worship every week.  That may require giving up some other activities or commitments for six weeks straight.  If traveling, it would mean finding a church where you are traveling in which to worship.  Ideally you would be here with our congregation adding to the vitality of our worship experience.  Nonetheless, the idea is to make worship a more intentional priority for this season of Lent, a season preparing us to remember the sacrificial events of Holy Week and leading up to the joyous celebration of Easter.

            What do you think?  Can you do it?  Will you do it?  Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on February 22nd.  You might want to come to our service that evening to initiate your commitment.  Then the Sundays of Lent are February 26, March 4, 11, 18, 25, and April 1.  Let’s do it together!