Yesterday at Chain of Lakes we focused on the theme of “Growing Young.” I shared a vision for children’s and youth ministry. This is the theme of the stewardship drive at Chain of Lakes this year. We showed a video about the campaign and had someone speak about it. It was a joyous day of celebration. It was close to being the largest attended service of the year.
The entire service can be watched at: vimeo.com/manage/videos/883769099
I’ve been thinking quite a lot about church growth this past week. And I know that this term, “church growth” is not one that everyone likes. Other phrases could be evangelism or church development. I’ve heard many say that to use this phrase is to turn people into numbers. Of course, I believe that people are not numbers. Everyone who comes to a faith community has a story that needs to be heard and honored. I don’t want anyone at Chain of Lakes Church, the place I serve, to be thought of as a number.
I still like this phrase. I believe that all congregations are called to grow in their worship attendance and in numbers of people. Certainly this is not the only objective of a congregation, but congregations who aren’t growing will inevitably encounter problems.
This is an issue for the Presbyterian Church (USA), a denomination that I love. My love is deep. I share with people that I bleed Presbyterian; and because I’m on blood thinner I bleed really fast. I want to see our denomination thrive.
Right now we’re not growing. In 2017 the PC(USA) had 9,451 churches; in 2022 that number declined to 8,704 churches. Total membership declined from 1,482, 767 in 2017 to 1,140,665 in 2022. In fact we haven’t grown for a very long time. I talked about this last week in my blog I wrote after leading worship at my home church in Worthington, Minnesota. That congregation has a special place in my heart. Because of their decline in numbers they are moving to a new phase of ministry. They are selling their building and purchasing a new building. I’m glad that the congregation is making this move, but the move came because they weren’t growing.
I wrote a blog about this. More people read that blog than any blog I’ve written in a long time. Something resonates with people about this issue of decline and growth.
Which brings me back to the theme of growing young.
I wonder what it would look like if the PC(USA) spent five years focusing on youth and children ministry. If we made an intentional effort to grow young. What would happen if we raised money so each congregation could have at least a twenty or even thirty hour a week person doing youth and children’s ministry? Or what if more resources were shared with congregations about how they can grow young?
I know there are people who are doing outstanding work at the wider denominational level. And though I haven’t attended an APCE conference for a while. They have video resources on their web site regarding previous conference at this site: 2022 Annual Event Video Resources - Association of Partners in Christian Education (apcenet.org)
I don’t claim to have any magical answers. I do know that when I came to my last church the congregation has less than five children and when I left we had over thirty. It took a lot of focus, and creativity, and financial giving. At Chain of Lakes we’re going to hire a thirty-hour a week person to coordinate our volunteers who do ministry with youth and children. This is a big increase in cost for us. But the potential for growth with children and youth is so high, that our Session has decided that we can’t afford not to take this risk.
I see our congregations declining and wonder if a five-year focus on youth and children’s ministry would help.
For the purpose of this blog, I’m not going to go into what that might look like. Though providing staff resources to congregations would help. And I know that my Stated Clerk sister would tell me to write an overture. For now I just want to stay on the big picture question.
How about a five-year focus on helping congregations develop ministries with youth and children?
And for all of my Presby friends who are immediately thinking, “that will never work or happen” let me ask you to start out by thinking, “what would happen if this was our focus?”