Are we not friendly enough? Are “kids today” just not interested in God? Do we need to install a spotlight in front of the building to shine on our church sign?
Then one very nice man said:
“Look at these flyers we made to hand out at the community fireworks on The Fourth of July.”
He was the kind of person who volunteers to clean out the gutters of the church building so they don’t have to pay for a professional. And he showed me the kind of flyer that so many churches share at community events with worship information featuring a photo of the church building.
“This isn’t going to work,” I said – which turned his enthusiasm into defensiveness. I definitely could have said something less direct, but these are urgent times, especially for a congregation with less than 20 members. I tried to say it with a pastoral voice. But clearly this wasn’t the response the nice man was expecting.
It was as if he had been saying, “We are trying. We are trying to reach out. We are trying to grow. Look – we even made the effort to create flyers to hand out to strangers.”
But then came the kicker:
Me: Why do you want new people to come join your church?
Nice Man: Because we need them to help us pay the bills.
Me: But that’s not a very appealing invitation, is it?
What I wanted to say next:
- Your congregation has reached a point of no return.
- People are not going to come join your church because of flyers.
- Our culture has changed, but your congregation hasn’t made comparable changes.
But I didn’t say these things. These are nice people. It was enough to say that their flyer wasn’t going to work.
Making “improvements” in our ministry – whether we are talking about flyers or a new church sign, or even a new pastor – is not enough to turn our congregations around. It’s too late and a culture is too entrenched for many of our congregations. The most faithful and certainly the boldest thing that they can do is decide to close joyfully, sharing whatever resources they have with congregations that are energized for missional ministry. This would create something that merely making “improvements” cannot possibly achieve: a legacy of resurrection.
This is not a grievous decision. It’s a gracious and generous decision. But – sadly – when I say it out loud, it crushes some very nice people.