It seems that one of the first questions people ask me when they find out I’m a pastor is, “How big is your church?” I’m not sure why this has become the measure of effectiveness and mission, but I know what they mean. They want to know how many rear ends are in our pews every week. To answer this has become increasingly difficult since people can participate in the worship life of the church in more ways than ever before in the history of the church. Park Memorial UMC has 450ish members, 220ish active participants, and between in-person worship and “live” worship attendance we average 226. Cook Memorial UMC has 84 members, 40ish active participants, and average 35 in in-person worship. I’m afraid that we have relegated how God sees the Church to a few numbers rattled off between parting company. We’ve limited the scope of what can be considered church to include only what happens during a worship service, and this has greatly undermined the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So I would like to re-ask the question, “How BIG is your church?”
Does your church include people who are members but who just don’t know it yet? Does your church include neighbors who have been loved with the selfless love of Christ? These neighbors have participated in the worship life of the church, even though they don’t know it, through the actions and witness of the faithful.
Does your church include ways people who have fallen far from the faith can reconnect with the love of Christ? Does your church participate in the restorative actions that help put together the broken pieces of people’s lives? Does your church help those who are in the midst of sin lay down their burdens and be brought into the light of Christ’s example? These broken and sinful people participate in the worship life of the church when they are healed by the power of God’s Spirit.
Is your church the bearer of good news to the poor? Do the poor even know your church exists? Does your church include ways that addicts can find relief from their pain? Does your church bring prostitutes to an awareness of a love that they’ve sought and haven’t found? Is your church a haven of safety for widows, orphans, and strangers? These addicts, prostitutes, widows, orphans, and people without homes participate in the worship life of the church when Christian men and women are compelled by the love of Christ to bring the help and hope to their lives.
Our churches can easily become more concerned with eloquent speeches and flashy services than the love that compels us to be compassionate. When more time is spent in sermon development, worship planning, band practice, audio/video preparation, and staging than in compelling Christians to let their lives BE the devotional their neighbor reads; the Church has a problem.
I had a conversation with a female colleague who is a prominent pastor in a large church. She was asking me how things were going down in the southern end of the state. I briefly told her of Park Memorial’s commitment to purchase and rehabilitate the homeless shelter in our community. To which she quickly asked, “What does a church know about bringing help to the homeless? They are not social workers.” This question has reverberated in my thoughts since that day.
Why have Christians lost the hope that the simple love of Christ can change the world? Why have Christians pacified themselves with the answer that the hope of the world can only be offered through professionalized services? Why do the days have to be gone when Christians started hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and schools? Why are we leaving the solving of poor people’s problems to governments and municipalities? We are the love of Christ to the world! We are the church in action wherever we go!
In a recent visit to Wheeler Mission in Indianapolis I was told the story of William V. Wheeler. In 1893, his wife and a couple of her fellow church members compelled him to open Door of Hope. They did so because their hearts were constrained by the love of Christ as they walked by the prostitutes on the streets of Indianapolis. They had compassion on them because they found them to be malnourished and without proper medical care. These women began opening their homes to feed these women and secured them the basic access to the medical care they needed. Literally, their homes became a door of hope!
It is time for God’s church to rise up and disrobe itself from the post-modern understanding of what it should be. One of my favorite hymns is “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” The last verse says “Oh, to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be. Let that goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee.” May our hearts be bound to the heart of Christ and may we let his love leads us in all our ways. I’ve decided that from now on when someone asks me, “How big is your church?” I’m going to answer, “As big as the love of Christ!”