When clergy people gather, inevitably we brag about our churches. We talk about our average Sunday attendance (ASA), our building projects, our programs, and—with the most pride—our people. But just as inevitably, there’s almost always one person who questions why we care about all that. “Aren’t we here to spread the Gospel? Why are we so concerned with building projects or the amount of people that come to church?” It’s a good question, really. Does it matter how many people we have at church? Does it matter if we have ‘nice’ facilities? Does it matter…
Well, in short answer form: Yes. And yes. YES.
The amount of people matters because they bring along with them time, talent and treasure. Those are valuable. Of course, we’re not in the mode of recruiting people for self-preservation; our call is to celebrate the good news of Jesus Christ, AND to bring that good news to as many people as humanly possible. But it’s through those media, the three T’s, that we do so. The programs in the church are ways to connect folks with one another, while also helping people in need or educating those yearning for learning; the facilities help us to do that. With proper facilities, we’re able to cook for the hungry, house clothing items for the needy, hold meetings about how to impact our local community, and—you guessed it—worship in a safe space that we want to make as beautiful as possible. (Before I go further, I want to state in no uncertain terms that I do not, in any way, believe God cares more for those with prettier worship spaces or bigger crowds or huge endowments. I have decent theology that allows me to understand that even if this church dwindled to say…oh, I don’t know…forty people (just a random number), that God would still work within that congregation to do miracles and change lives.)
But. We’re not a congregation of forty. We’re currently blessed to be a growing community with new ministries on the horizon; with new folks—and existing folks—passionately pursuing the prospect of better the lives of themselves and those around them. I AM going somewhere with this…stick with me. The importance of our building and all the other ‘stuff’ is this: It all has the potential to attract others to an outward and visible sign of an inward and searched-for change. To prove the importance of church building and church projects, of faithful people who give in all areas, I’d like to share with you all an experience I had last Wednesday evening.
June had just arrived for community dinner; she text me and asked if I could meet her outside (the side parking lot) and help her carry food inside. As I met her at her car, I looked over at the new memorial garden—as I often do, to gauge progress and appreciate that which has already been done. As I glanced, I noticed a vehicle parked parallel to the area. A woman was standing next to the car and simply staring at the cross on the brick. Naturally, I followed her gaze. There, at the foot of the cross knelt a man with his hands in prayer. He knelt at the base of the cross with his forearms resting in the praying position on top of the ‘new’ rock wall we just built. I didn’t move. I watched. He looked up at the wall, raised his arms just like I do every Sunday when I celebrate the Eucharist, and then went back to the praying position. I just stood there amazed for a few more minutes.
Eventually, he stood, and I walked over to speak with him. We’ll call him John. He was driving by and noticed the new structure we were adding; he said he hadn’t been to church in a while, but the cross seemed to call to him. He remarked on the space, how beautiful it was and how holy it felt to him, and thanked me (and asked me to thank you all) for providing it. I’m not making this up. He said, “I’ve been to this church before, years ago, but it didn’t feel like this. This feels holy.”
You did that. All of you. The changes we’ve made together, the money we take in, the ministries we provide, the education we all undergo…all of it, from choir to daughters of the king—all of it matters. Our physical plant is beginning to call out into the community. It’s stopping people in their tracks, calling them over, a beckoning beacon of hope to folks who just feel the need to kneel at the cross.
I invited John to the meal—he’d already eaten and had somewhere to be—I invited him to church, and I hope he comes. But if he doesn’t, I will at least know that—for one moment—our holy space served as a church for him. And in that moment, he felt the presence of God.
That’s why. Keep up the good work, Res. I’m proud of this place, proud of what we’re doing, and beyond blessed to be among you. Thank you for making this space look inviting, and for continuing to be faithful with all you give—the time, talent and treasure are paying off and beginning to create a ‘feeling’ within others that calls them to the space. Thank you. Thank God for you. If we’ve just managed to change one life for one moment, then all the work is worth it. Have a good week. I’ll see you at the cross on Sunday.