Some of our congregations are praying for new members. The #1 question I am asked as a church person is “How can we attract young families?” A close second question is “How can we attract the young people?”
It only takes a rudimentary read of the Bible to note that God rarely sends the people we expect. The examples are endless: Jacob (cheating brother) David (sexual misconduct king) and of course Jesus (born in a cave to a poor woman with no interest in declaring guerrilla war on the Romans.)
I often tell the Martha Grace Reece story from Unbinding the Gospel to congregations wondering “how to grow.” A church in a ski community was “praying for young people” to join them. Their prayers were serious and fervent. And without sharing the whole story, God indeed sent young people but they were tattooed and pierced and never likely to sit through a worship service. But they came for food and community and they became the church.
Faithful congregations will indeed grow – 100% of the time – if we are will to include the people God is sending to us. God regularly sends people to be with us, to lead us.
But sometimes we reject them, we don’t see them, we don’t love them. I see this every day:
- The White church in what has become an Asian neighborhood.
- The white collar church in a transitional neighborhood of blue and pink collar workers.
- The church that closes it’s doors to LGBTQ neighbors.
Growing congregations welcome the presence and leadership of anyone God is sending their way with genuine affection and a culture of learning their stories while sharing our own. In the words of Tali Hairston, yesterday’s keynoter at NEXTChurch in Seattle: we in the Church believe that diversity means that people unlike ourselves come into our space and learn to sing the way we sing and to talk the way we talk. But diversity – actually – is about learning how to sing the way others sing and talk the way others talk.
Instead of wanting people to “join the Church,” what if the Church joined those people? Just a thought.