Last week, well, it was a week.
On Thursday, we held a memorial service for a church member who’d died too young. He’d been a leader in the community and in the congregation, and the church was packed with friends and family. On Friday, we held a memorial service for a church member who’d lived a long and full life and will be missed dearly. At her service, her college-age granddaughters spoke eloquently about their grandmother. It occurred to me (and a few other people, I found out later), that they had learned to be comfortable speaking in front of a crowd during all those years they led worship on Youth Sunday.
On Saturday morning, I was a guest at the wedding of our former ministry intern, and Saturday afternoon, I officiated at the wedding of a young woman who had grown up in our church. There was laughter and tears and promises made, and much joy all around.
Sunday morning, we worshipped together as we always do, which this week included a baby dedication. I walked with this little boy in my arms up and down the aisle of the church, introducing him to his church family, while his big sister and parents beamed at the front.
After worship, our leaders met for a mini-retreat, a follow up to some plans they’d done earlier this year. We left with renewed energy for the work they do and gratitude for the many strengths and resources this congregation has for doing ministry together.
When they’d all left and the church was quiet Sunday afternoon, I sat down to write a Facebook post. I’d planned to make a list of all the ways the church had been the church in those four days — all the caring and cooking and singing and loving and working…. and I couldn’t do it. The list was too long, the days had been too full.
In the midst of everything going on last week, the Pew Research Center released the results of a new survey which indicated – to no one’s real surprise – that religious affiliation among Americans is on the decline. Particularly in mainline churches (like ours), attendance is declining as people find other things to do on Sunday mornings and other ways to make meaning in their lives.
I am aware of some irony in the fact that I didn’t have time to read this report until this morning: we were too busy being the church to read the news that nobody is coming to church anymore.
A few brief thoughts: The first is to note that we’ve had a number of new people, of all ages, become part of our community in the last year or so. They’re choosing to be here, which is no small thing.
The second is that while we should not focus solely on numbers, we do need to pay attention. Our own worship attendance has held pretty steady for the past year or so, but we need to make sure that we are telling our story and sharing the good news in a way that is relevant to people’s lives. That may mean that we need to change the way we do some things; it certainly means that we have to find ways to connect with each other more deeply. It absolutely means that we have to make sure that everyone feels welcome here.
The third is that we’re doing a good job of being the church. From where I sat over the last week, I can see how good you are at caring for grieving families. I can see how good you are at rejoicing and celebrating good news. I can see how good you are at blessing babies and promising those tired parents that you’ll be there when they need help. I can see how committed you are to doing important work in our community and our world. You are good at being the church.
And that gives me hope.