I am a church planter. I don't like those words. I nuance them. But, they are words you probably know. I am someone who is working to cultivate a new community of people loving God and neighbor in the Jesus way - or at least with some curiosity or willingness to try on the Jesus way - in specific time and place.
And yesterday the internet exploded with cold hard facts about a church in retreat.
And it's scary.
We're doing this work because we believe in it. We're doing this work because it's what brings us to life. At the core, we're doing this slow work of cultivating a different way of living in light of Jesus in a particular time and place because we believe in it. We believe it is good for our neighbors and neighborhood to join in the concrete, gritty flourishing of God's Kingdom of love and justice in our place. And, if I'm honest, I'm doing this work because this is the only church I can imagine myself at.
And yesterday the internet exploded with cold hard facts about a church in retreat. And it's scary. It's paralyzing.
But maybe it doesn't need to be. Maybe the numbers and percentages and rates of church attendance aren't our business.
Maybe like when David took that census, when we start focusing on how big or small our territory and number is is when things go bad.
Maybe the only thing that is our business is to love God and love neighbor in each specific moment, place, and interaction. And maybe pew research doesn't help - but distract from this work. Because each of my neighbors is not a statistic or a demographic. Each of my neighbors is an infinite bearer of God's image. Each of my neighbors is not a number. Each of my neighbors is one of God's beloved children who God longs to love and know and work and play with. And my job, then, is to love and know and work and play with each of them in their stunning particularity. And I can't do that when I am weighed down by a study that tells me God's family is in retreat.
Pew research and demographic studies would suggest that if I wanted to start a successful mainline Christian church that becomes self sustaining, I need to move somewhere in the suburbs where people are generally over educated and ten years younger or older than myself.
Faithfulness to God's calling would suggest if I want to participate with God cultivating a new community of Jesus followers I should live where I am, loving people of all ages, all education levels, and all socioeconomic levels.
What if we only focused on what it means to love God and love neighbor in each specific moment, place, and interaction? And as the scriptures tell the story - the Lord will add to our numbers...or not. The growth or shrinking of the church is the work and business of God's Spirit; not ours. Numbers are not our measure of success. Faithfulness is. Love is. The rest is for God to do and us to trust.