Thursday, December 15, 2005

What Made Me Run

Apparently my post from yesterday about pew sitting was received as criticism of the pew sitters. I really didn't mean it as such. If anything, it's a criticism of the rest of us. Not really a criticism -- more a challenge.

It's quite true that I don't know what's going on in the lives of many of these pew sitters -- and that's just the problem. Still I feel like I have some idea who they are because I used to be one of them.

Now let me be clear that I am not saying that they should all be signing up for committees and teaching Sunday school and what-not. That's only a piece of what the Church is. They SHOULD, however, be integrated into the life of the congregation. They should know and be known. Their lives should be interconnected with ours. In short, they should be part of our community. And we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking they are just because they show up on Sunday.

When I was first returning to the Church after the standard college straying, I would come in on Sunday morning and leave without really talking to anyone. If someone greeted me, I would respond appropriately but perfunctorily. And then I'd go home and live my life entirely apart from the Church for six days.

What happened for me was this: I read in the bulletin one week about a class on building spiritual habits, and I decided to give it a try. The class, of course, talked about prayer and stewardship and Bible reading, but it also talked about fellowship as a spiritual habit. I shared with the instructor that that wasn't really my thing. She wisely told me that it was important but didn't push the issue.

The next week we talked about Bible study and on the way home I thought about how it related to my personal interests. I'm a nerd, right? Among my biggest interests were (and are) philosophy, history, literature and, strangely enough, etymology. And it suddenly dawned on me what these things have in common. I was overwhelmed with outright giddiness, and I couldn't wait to attend a Bible study.

So that got me to the church one more day a week for a while. But this still probably wasn't the crucial factor in getting me really integrated into the life of the congregation -- two other things were bigger. First, the woman who led the spiritual habits course, seeing my interest, encouraged me to get involved with the Adult Education committee. Second, a group of people from the Bible study I went to invited me to join their small group. Though these people are in a fairly different place in life than I am (they're older, their children are older, etc.) they are among my closest friends.

So anyway, this was what my post yesterday was about. What can we do to draw people into the fuller life of the congregation? Sure, there will be people who needs us for a time to give them distance. There will be people who just aren't ready. Even so, what can we do?

"And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds."
-Hebrews 10:24


P. Softly said...

Ok, yes, I see your point and it is a very good one. Yet, you took the first step. But may I copy it for our pastor and for our church discussions?

I've heard it said that a person visits a church (or probably other organization) mostly because of personal invitation. So this probably also applies to joining some of the subgroups in the church.

I've been very involved in church in various capacities. In most cases, I've been asked to join a committee or an effort. Recently we needed some new blood in the Stewardship committee. One of the members put a note into the hand of someone going up for communion. Hmmmm It worked.

I made a point of seeking out and talking to a 30 year old man attending by himself. He had a unique appearance, so I noticed him often from the choir. I think it made a big difference. He has been very active in doing repairs. Last year he organized a men's group.

Some people are natural joiners. But most people seems to need to be recognized and asked.

LutherPunk said...

Most people do need a little push to get in the water, if I may be so bold as to change metaphors mid-conversation.

But the fact remains that the 80/20 rule does apply in many places. The faith has become another commodity that people "purchase" and use how they want. Of course, I really believe that pastors (myself included) have contributed to this by our preaching of a cheap grace.

I agree with PS that people come when invited, and a key to getting folks involved is to invite them into the many sub-circles of church life. We have found that an interview process before joining really helps. A lay person meets with a newcomer after they complete the New Members class and just chats for a while about their interests, what they expect from the church, hobbies, past church experiences etc. This information is then matched to the various activities in the church, and team leaders are given the names of potential matches for their activities. It has certainly increased connections, but we still have a lot of pew sitters, and I suspect we always will.

Something else I think really needs to take place. In the course of new member orientation, people need to be told what is expected of them. All of this is laid out in the confirmation vows. But to put it concisely, you are EXPECTED to give of your time, your talent, and your treasure. Sure, we've had folks not come back to the new member class after saying this, but leaders have to be ok with that. Christianity is HARD. Though Jesus says his yoke is light, it is still a yoke! (BTW, in four years at this parish I can count on one hand how many people left after that class).

Alright, I have rambled enough.

BTW, Melancthon, I finally got around to adding you to my sidebar. Hopefully this way we will cross paths more!

Andy said...

ps, you may definitely copy this and use it in any way you find helpful.

lp, I like the interview idea. My congregation has a whirlwind tour of our ministires as part of the new members class, but I don't think we have such an intentional way to engage people one-on-one. It's a good idea.

Thank you both for your comments.