Tuesday, March 28, 2017

In Church Limbo

People come into a church. People leave the church. But do churches know the reason why?

It is easier to find out what attracts a person to start coming to a church with some regularity. It is easier to ask them outright. Most people are eager to help the church leaders know.

But it is more difficult to find out why a person leaves a church. This is mainly because church attendance is sporadic for most attendees. It used to be that regular church goers attended every week; but these days, attendance once or twice a month is the definition of a regular church attendee.

For some small churches, no one is keeping track of why parishioners leave. They miss one, two, three Sundays; and no one ever follows up. Whose job is it supposed to be anyway? So people, families drift away. There has to be a way of following up and keeping people connected. But I think many churches fail at this.

As for me, I've missed the last two Sundays at my church. I'll miss again on this coming Sunday because it is one of the rare Sundays where I have to work. No one has reached out to me to find out the reason. I guess everyone assumes I've left. Maybe they think I've moved--that was a rumor for a while. So many have left our church in the past year. Yet I too have been guilty of not following up and finding out why.

Sickness has kept me away from church for the past two weeks. After a month of no church attendance, if I go back, would I still be welcome? Has the congregation already written me off? Is there anything left for me?

Monday, March 06, 2017

Teaching Youth Sunday School

Since September, I have taught in Sunday School for the handful of youth at our church. It was a natural continuation of teaching 5th graders last year, and it has been a surprisingly wonderful experience for me. This stands juxtaposed with a youth Sunday School class I taught almost a decade ago--a class in which I spectacularly failed. So with time comes wisdom; and here are the things I've learned this time around.

1. Connect the stories. The best way to remember is to see the connection between things in the bible. When we talk about Jesus sharing the Passover meal, we review what Passover is and why Jesus would be celebrating it. We use the things that is covered in World Civilization class at school to talk about where the story of Jesus fits into history and why Jesus came at a time when more people were receptive. There is value in story because it allows youth to see that maybe they fit into the story of Jesus as well.

2. Don't go into class with all the answers. One thing I love is to discuss those gray areas where the bible contradicts itself. Bumping Ezra and Nehemiah against Ruth when talking about the way the foreigner is treated. Using Jesus' teachings to talk about what we see in the present day--these are ways to get youth thinking. They don't need answers in Sunday School--they need to think...which leads to....

3. Remember that youth are brand new abstract thinkers. It's a big difference from teaching preschoolers. Youth want to ask the "what if" questions and think through scenarios. Sunday School can be a safe environment for that discussion.

4. Sunday School is different from a youth group gathering. In our church, Sunday School is learning about the bible stories--it is bible study. That keeps us on task. There needs to be a separate time for each in your church, but not so strict--there can be a blurring of the lines if a youth wants to discuss a particular problem.

5. Most important of all: food. I have fed the youth every week except the week that the Boy Scouts had a pancake breakfast one Sunday morning. These teenagers need a second breakfast. Having it consistently lets them know that they can have time to get their thoughts together while putting jelly on their biscuit. And if they come late, they may not get the doughnut that was there at the start of class. With a handful of teenagers, this was quite doable for me. It might take a parent rotation if a group is larger. But food is a good way to start. Fellowship is important.

It has been fun to teach youth Sunday School this year--and I never thought I'd be doing it. But in teaching the youth, I have learned that with a bit of food and respect and kindness, it has been a great class to teach. 

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Giving Units

A few years ago, I was in a budget meeting for my church where I first heard the term "Giving Unit" to describe the people in the congregation who regularly gave to the church. At first it seemed kind of funny to me. But later I reflected that it wasn't all that funny. I have come to despise the term in the last few years.

The problem with being a "Giving Unit" is that it only takes into account the financial gifts that a person contributes. I had a conversation with fellow church member a while back who was sorry that her family could not contribute more. Yet this woman had been active in many areas of ministry--giving her time and talents. I truly believe that time and talents are worth more to a church that money in many ways.

When your church is at the brink of collapse due to a decrease in members and contributions, it is easy to push the focus to acquiring more "Giving Units;" but in doing so, the real work of the gospel is lost. The Gospel is not so much worried about keeping doors open and pastors paid. The Gospel is what is required in our actions: giving oneself to the ministry to which God has called each of us. For a church not to recognize that time and talents are just as important as money, makes that church lack effectiveness and take members for granted. Let us remember that giving is not always about money.