My wife said if I write any more blogs about missing her, I will lose all of my regular readers, so, “Yes, dear.”
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy and a practicing Methodist says, "Methodism in the U.S. has lost membership every year since 1964. It has lost over 4.5 million members. There is nothing in its U.S. policies that can or will reverse the decline in the near future.” When I was being questioned prior to my ordination as a pastor, one of the questions was, “What would you do about the declining membership of the United Methodist Church?” My answer was to stop counting members and to start being active, vital, and compassionate churches—which they did not like. When we came to Tanzania, there were four churches and about two hundred members. Now, we have 24 churches and 4,000 members and only six of our churches even have buildings. The picture at the right is typical of most of our churches. It is what they call here “praying under a tree.” The passion these people have for Jesus Christ is manifested in their care for each other and for those in need around them. Unfortunately, that is not what drives most mainline churches. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Community Church in California, says,
“The percentage of members being mobilized for ministry and missions is a more reliable indicator of [church] health than how many people attend services. Church growth and missions go hand in hand. As long as there is one person in the world who does not know Christ, the church has a mandate to keep growing.”
In North American churches, the percentage of church monies devoted to benevolences (ministries outside the local congregation) has fallen steadily since 1968. Many studies confirm that benevolences now make up only 15 percent of a church’s budget. Yet almost every study reports that the growing churches are missions-focused. When $0.85 of every dollar is spent on the church itself, it means that the four-walls of the church define it and in my mind at least, that means it is not really a church. Christ did not call for us to gather together and hold hands in the most comfortable building possible. He called us to action. Reread Matthew 25: 31-46 and see where your church stands on what Christ considers the most important ways to treat each other. I am not advocating not having churches, we need to gather together on a regular basis to recharge our batteries, to praise God, to pray together, to hear the Word anew. However, this should lead to new enthusiasm for outreach for talking Christ outside the sanctuary and onto the streets and into foreign countries. I was honored and humbled when a church I pastored was named “Church of the Year,” but it wasn’t because of me—it was because our church (for its size) had the biggest mission budget and mission activities in the whole state. That was something the members wanted and still want. They are still meeting in the fellowship hall they built years ago and have never had a campaign to build a sanctuary—too busy helping others. Rick Warren hit the nail on the head—there is no growth for churches who only look inward. Christianity is not a noun, it is an active verb and many churches live it. If yours doesn’t embrace local and foreign missions—change it. If you can’t change it—leave it and find one that does because they are out there. They are the ones growing and expanding the Kingdom of God.