When I went to seminary in the seventies, the church was a given. I don’t recall the language of church growth and church planting figuring prominently, if at all, in the conversations we had, and we certainly weren’t talking about “the decline of the mainline church” or “the end of the Protestant Reformation.” My classmates were a conscientious lot and, in truth, I suppose we worried more about doing a good and faithful job than about the longevity of our congregations.
That isn’t the case any longer. Most congregations, regardless of their size need to be asking themselves questions about the future. But the most important question is, “Do you want your church?”
The answer to that question will probably depend upon what you think “your church” is.
For far too many, the answer is often that it is a place that my / our needs are met. It’s not uncommon for people to say that they have chosen a church because it had a program for their children or that the church had an outstanding music program, that the time of the services fit with their lives, or that they liked the preaching. To put it crassly, some people treat the church as an end-user of a product and, to be fair, we’ve often “sold” the church, as if that’s exactly what it is.
But a better way of defining “church,” apart from the all important definition of it as “the body of Christ,” is to ask ourselves, “Where can I be available for the work of Christ in the world?” — because, in the final analysis, it’s not all about us, about our needs, or about the needs of our families. The church is a living extension of the incarnation and is meant to be a living, breathing embodiment of Christ’s love in the world that draws and embraces a broken world.
As an end user, the answer to the question — “Do you want your church?” — is always conditional and it can be answered by asking the question, “What is it doing for me now?” For the Christians who have sought out a community were they can be the living, breathing embodiment of Christ’s love in the world, the answer is always “yes.”
That’s not a question your priest, pastor or minister can answer for you, but the future of your church depends upon it.