“We’re concerned about quality not quantity.” “We don’t play the numbers game.” “We need to focus on growing our people before we focus on reaching those outside our church.” We have all heard such comments, haven’t we? Perhaps we’ve made them ourselves at times.
Whether we’re looking at our Sunday school attendance, worship attendance, or, in my case, conference statistics, when the numbers are declining it’s easy to for us to rationalize and dismiss such trends. Yet, Lovett H. Weems, Jr., in his recent article, “Changing Congregational Trends,” points out that there is a direct correlation between churches that are growing and their level of spiritual vitality. In other words, if our trends are declining, that may well point to the fact we have a spiritual problem.
Most of our Indiana United Methodist congregations have been experiencing a decline in worship attendance. Only 26% grew by at least an average of one worshiper from 2013 to 2014! No doubt this decline reflects our society’s changing behaviors, such as people attending worship less frequently than in the past. Yet, at the core, in many cases, it reflects the lack of spiritual vitality. Many of our churches are like the church in Ephesus, described in the Book of Revelation as having forsaken its “first love.”
In working with over two hundred of our congregations through the Fruitful Congregation Journey process, the Church Development team has discovered that most of our churches lack a clear vision and disciple-making process. But even more significant, they lack members with hearts that are totally in love with Jesus and are fully committed to serving him above all else.
So should we be concerned about our church’s growth trend? The study cited by Weems suggests yes, we should because it’s a reflection of our spiritual vitality, our heart. So, what about your church’s trend? Does it reflect hearts fully in love with Christ, or is there spiritual work that needs to be done?
— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development