When I was in seminary we talked a lot about Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). The premise is that instead of going in and talking all about the deficiencies of a community, we instead look for their assets and try and strengthen and develop those, in turn either addressing or compensating for the weaknesses or shortfalls.
Those of us in the church talk A LOT about the decline in numbers, which is a truth, no doubt. But today I was reading "Faith In Action" and read this:
"The United Methodist Church has a membership of approximately 11 million persons. We are a global church with 8 million members in the United States making us the third largest Christian denomination in the country."
Declining or not, we are still the 3rd largest Christian denomination in the US--that's pretty good folks. So what if we stopped harping on ourselves for our losses and shortcomings, making us feel inadequate, unspiritual, unfaithful, and useless, and instead went, "hey, we're doing alright here, let's keep doing what we're doing and at least stay in 3rd". Granted, it's not all about our place, our #, or even our membership numbers. And I wouldn't say that focusing on being 3rd grants us permission to stop trying to growing.
Nevertheless, as someone who was regularly ranked in my primary and secondary education, knowing my rank helped me want to keep doing well so I wouldn't lose (God forbid)! And I think that, given my inclination toward winning and success, if I had been #151 (out of 158), I might not have bothered to try, I wouldn't have seen things only as an uphill battle, and would have become complacent. But knowing I was #_ (single digit) helped me keep striving.
For the sake of argument, no, competition is probably not the best way to drive our spirituality, but it is part of our nature, and so allowing congregations to "compete" for who can donate the most cans of soup or jars of peanut butter, or who can keep a foothold in the public eye on religion might not be the worst way to go about things. Because with competition comes success, and with success comes motivation...
So what if we became and ABCD church instead of a DWS (Dang we suck/shrink) church?! What if we allowed ourselves a second to breathe before we launched the next attack on all the things we do wrong and Oh, I don't know, let grace take part in our communities...