“But I make you laugh. You said that was the most important thing.” Martin to Claire in Fleabag
Turns out, it wasn’t the most important thing.
When talking with couples planning to be married with so many decisions to make about the festivities, I always ask them to identify the most important thing for this special day. Is it the dress? The food? Is it to have Grandpa present? Is it to ride off into the sunset on horses?
By the time a couple marries, I make the sacred assumption that they’ve already committed themselves to each other in God’s eyes – if God’s eyes are even a consideration. Perhaps the most important thing is to stand in front of all the people you love most in the world and state out loud your intentions to love each other forever. This remains a holy thing.
So if we asked your church leaders and friends, “What’s the most important thing about your church?” what would they say – assuming they are telling the God’s honest truth? So many would say “the building.” Church people really love the buildings. Or do they love the cemetery most of all? The church’s history? The pastor? The nursery school?
We could make the sacred assumption that – of course – the most important thing has to do with God. Is my church a community in which I feel close to God? Does our church show the world what God’s love looks like? Are we serving the community in God’s name – specifically in Jesus’ name?
Again I turn to Yancey Strickler who is trying to shift the for-profit business world from a culture of making money as the most important thing to creating a better planet as the most important thing. Of course businesses want to make a profit which is why they are in business, but Strickler points out that over the past 30 years, businesses have become greedy about making money to the point of destroying the middle class and increasing the divide between rich and poor. He believes (and I agree) that you can make a very prosperous living by taking others into consideration as a for-profit business. Businesses can make money while treating their employees well. Businesses can make money while practicing good stewardship of the earth. Businesses can make money while supporting non-profits that address the needs of the community. Businesses can give back.
Kickstarter (which Strickler co-founded) like Patagonia and King Arthur Flour, Eileen Fisher, and Allbirds is a Benefit Corporation. We need more of those. By definition, “Benefit Corporations are for-profit companies that are obligated to consider the impact of their decisions on society, not only shareholders. Radically, positive impact on society becomes part of a Benefit Corporation’s legally defined goals.” (Source)
The Church can learn from this too. Of course churches and other communities of worship are not for-profit organizations. We are not about financial optimization (unless we are and then may God have mercy upon us.)
If the most important thing in our church is to make lots of money to save for a rainy day, we are missing the point of money. (Note: it’s a tool for ministry, my friends.)
If the most important thing in our church is to serve the needs of the members, we are falling short of Jesus’ commandments. Yes, tending to members’ needs is important, but is it THE most important thing? Is it the most important thing that those who donate the most money are kept happy under all circumstances? Is it the most important thing that we get more members? Is it the most important thing that there’s a Sunday morning Bible study just before worship?
Growing congregations are those with a clear identity. And that identity is utterly and totally about God.
Growing congregations exist to serve God by serving God’s people. And God’s people include refugees, police officers, D students, first responders, prison inmates, and hospice residents. And you and me and people who consume too much MSNBC and Fox News. And sweet little old ladies and cranky old men and non-binary siblings afraid for their futures.
What’s the most important thing in your Church – really? This is a great time to figure it out so that God can use us. The world desperately needs Good News and healing and hope.