The other day I met with a women’s circle. To be quite honest I wasn’t sure why I was supposed to be there. The host had mentioned it to me, asked if the speaker had contacted me, and asked if I could come. I agreed. After a busy week with an even busier day ahead, I debated bowing out. They’d understand. But my morning appointment was shorter than I expected and it gave me a chance for a pick-me-up nap. I went. The speaker was sharing her idea for how our church might reach out to the community, and, hopefully, as a consequence—grow. Her idea is good and is circulating already through the various committees of the church. I had the “extra” knowledge about what is happening, what the plans are, what our needs are, etc. I was there to make the connections, answer questions, and do some “P.R.” work. (I seem to do a lot of that).
As a part of the sharing, one woman described her frustration that we don’t advertise in the local paper anymore. She shared that when she came, 4 years ago, she had looked in the paper and seen an ad for our church and that’s how she came to be a member with us. One woman had been on the committee that voted to stop advertising in the paper. 1) It’s expensive and we were/are struggling financially. 2) Younger generations aren’t reading the paper—not the paper one anyway…we use the internet. 3) The younger generations generally also use the internet to find a church. Hence the decision. The woman continued to air her frustration. It’s common in our church of “older” members. They take the paper daily and always read it; it makes sense to advertise there.
I left the meeting wondering how it is that we properly finesse the whole issue. It isn’t that this woman doesn’t want younger members, or that she doesn’t want to advertise on the internet, and despite her insistence on its importance, I don’t think she’d pay to keep it in the local paper. So the question becomes, does she really want to see the ad in the newspaper? Probably. But why? If I heard her right, her real statement was: “If it weren’t for the newspaper ad I wouldn’t be here, and if you think the newspaper ad (and who comes as a result) isn’t important, then you don’t care whether I am here or not.” That’s why she persisted—she needs to know (as I believe we all do) that her presence matters to someone. She needs to know, by our affirmations, that we wouldn’t be the same church without her, and that’s important. In many ways, we have failed to make that clear to her. Actually, I would say much of the problem with our “numerical decline” (though there are a multitude of other reasons) is that the church is not convincing people that their presence matters, that we are a weaker body without them, that we need people—not just people who say closet prayers, but we need people who come and move with the body in worship, prayer, lament, mission, study, and discipleship. We all long to “be a part of” and part of that sense of belonging is having a role, generally one that is acknowledged and recognized, and making a difference because of our role. So, how do we affirm our members, hold them accountable, AND become more relevant to those outside the church (particularly those generations that are almost completely unfamiliar with religious practices)?