One of the interesting things about my sabbatical time was that for the first time in over 20 years I was not “bound” to a worship community. I didn’t have a place that was expected to worship. This is a unique place to be for a Pastor. Normally on Sundays I know where I am going to be except for perhaps during the four Sunday’s I have for vacation.
It was interesting because I think it gave me a glimpse into the mindset of the unchurched or at least those seeking a new church. For the first time in a very long time I had the option of where to attend worship or even the scandalous choice of not attending worship. I was in a place where I could “shop” for churches. It was interesting trying to decide where to go. I had to consider things like, distance, service times and style. Even as I considered these concerns I realized that there was something that beat our all, a pre-existing connection. The churches I chose to attend I either knew the pastors or had worked with the congregation in another capacity in the presbytery.
This got me thinking about the often-reported studies that tell us that people often attend worship for the first time because they are invited or given the recommendation by a friend. One such study reports that when asked why they began attending a church, 86% of the people cited an invitation from a friend. That is compared to 6% who started attending because the Pastor invited them. As one friend said on Facebook, that means congregation members have 80% more power than pastors.
A secondary way people start attending is by having other connections to the congregation. Things like a Scout group, recovery group, or perhaps a preschool is the point of connection. These connections build a sense of relationship that cannot be denied. I attended a few churches because I had done work with them through the Transformation Team of the Presbytery. I had a sense of knowledge of the people before I even showed up. This is true for all of those groups that use our building for various community activities. Too often we underestimate the power of those relationships being the primary entry point and worship being the secondary. More and more we are learning that for many younger people, worship is the last place of connection not the first as it has been for previous generations.
I share these thoughts with you for a few reasons. One is that it is important for our members to consider invitations. Personal invitation is the most powerful way to grow not only the numerical but also the spiritual health of our congregation. We also need to remember that worship isn’t the only activity to invite people into. Bible study, men’s and woman’s ministry groups, OWLS and all of the activities beyond our worship service times are a great opportunity to invite those around you. In fact, often those non-worship service gatherings are more effective because they tend to be less pressure and smaller.
Secondly, I believe that we would do ourselves a great service is we recognize the ministry that happens outside of our “church” activities. The hospitality we show community groups is ministry.
Finally, I hope that each of us can appreciate the vital ministry of our preschool. I know by now you are probably sick of hearing me talk about our preschool ministry. Yet, I know that it is not only one of the greatest gifts to our community but is also the greatest opportunity to impact the lives of our neighbors. Caring, competent and affordable early childhood education/care is one of our areas greatest needs. We provide this as a ministry and I hope that the preschool families know that our whole congregation cares and prays for them. The more we can be thankful for this and the more we seek to connect with it the better it is for church and family alike.
Who might you invite to attend worship or another activity?
This past week I have been reflecting on what sabbatical meant for me and what returning to the congregation has been like. Today, I thought I would share a few thoughts on both of these topics.
First and foremost it is great to be back with Christ Presbyterian Church. To say I missed the church would be an understatement. In the beginning stages of my time away there was a sense of relief. For the first time in forever, I was free from the “daily demands” of ministry. Shutting down email and realizing that the next four months of congregational ministry weren’t something I should or really could worry about was freeing. Yet, in the end, especially the last few weeks, I was left with a yearning. The cliché, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” really is true. I found myself ready to come back to the congregation I love and the people who comprise it.
That’s not to say that there wasn’t a bit of anxiety about my return. After all, I really had no idea what was happening in the life of Christ Presbyterian Church. That is a very strange place to be. Even when I arrived as a newly called pastor, I felt like I knew more. Thankfully, I also knew that we have great leadership at Christ Presbyterian Church and the work we have done to build a strong spiritual community. I knew that God’s Spirit would be present in the congregation and all would be well.
The deep and loving welcome I received upon my return was all the testimony I needed that God was working in the midst of our congregation. Seeing the smiling faces and continued love that everyone has for each calmed most of my nerves.
Yet, coming back has been a bit strange. Last week I think I came up with an image for how it sometimes has felts. Have you ever seen videos of people trying to get on a treadmill that was going at a runners pace. Normally they are in the category of “fail videos.” Life at Christ Presbyterian Church has gone on while I was away. Much like the person trying to get on the treadmill I need to be careful. This is especially true do to my desire to change some of my less than helpful patterns. Coming back from sabbatical I know that I need to make sure that I am being mindful of my own needs as well as the congregations.
Many of the “things” I have normally been charged with caring for have been led by other people. Figuring out the appropriate way to reintegrate is not something that has an owner’s manual. Like much of the sabbatical process we have been figuring it out as we are in the throws of it.
My approach has been to focus on relationships. I know that there are many “business concerns” that need to be dealt with but sabbatical taught me that none of that could be done well if we aren’t fostering spiritual relationships. That is perhaps the biggest takeaway from sabbatical I have gleaned. One thing I let happen over the past few years was to allow stuff to get in the way of people. The pressure to get “things done” pushed the vital need for relationship to be pushed to the side. I know that I cannot do that now or in the future. I also know that when those relationships have been the strongest in our life together we have been the most spiritually vital.
The sabbatical time that Christ Presbyterian afforded me was a great spiritual blessing. I will be eternally grateful for this gift. I ask that you pray for my continued growth and application of sabbatical lessons. Finally, I look forward to reconnecting with everyone and seeing where God will lead us next.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’