This is one of those posts I don't usually write, because what's rattling around in my brain has already formed the foundation of a sermon, and I don't like to publish early sermon musings. (Hate to spoil the surprise, ya know.)
But I just can't get the two meetings I attended today out of my head.
Our synod's Urban Ministry Task Force met this morning. The primary topic of the meeting was the most promising of our three inner-city parishes.
We heard a report about that church, which, of course, included numbers. These reports virtually always include numbers. The numbers are these:
Persons fed by the parish's Saturday feeding program: 160-190
Persons who attend Sunday worship: 30-40
Then we went on to discuss and disect the parish in question. One of the pastors at the meeting, a person I like and respect, made the following comment: "[Inner-City Lutheran Parish in Question] has gotten money from the synod on more than one occasion, and so far, they don't have any successes to show for it."
There was general agreement around the table about the veracity of this statement.
I didn't say what I was thinking, and for that I am sorry. What I was thinking was "Are you all nuts?" What I said was, "How are we defining success?"
It was supposed to be one of those ask-a-hopefully-thought-provoking-question moments, but alas, someone took it literally and gave me a definition out of the book of Acts, Chapter Two.
I am not unfamiliar with Acts, Chapter Two. In fact, if you go to my church, you are probably laughing now, because you have heard me use this chapter of scripture far more often than any other.
What we are taught about the church in Acts Two is that the church is the assembly of believers which "holds all things in common" and provides for all of those who are in need.
I don't recall anything about minimum church membership.
I'm sensitive about this, of course, because 30-40 members at worship is a short term goal in my congregation. We're not there yet. We will be, and it's because we "hold all things in common," and have worked very hard at being a community which provides for the needs of its members, and attends to the needs of the larger community as well. Though we've fallen off on the latter, since we've been in temporary digs. We need to get back there, because Acts Two says we should, and that's good enough.
I guess what I'm struggling to understand is how a church community which feeds nearly two hundred people on Saturday, and gathers thirty to forty people to hear the Word of God on Sunday can not be considered "successful."
After the meeting, our Area Ministry met, and I sat next to a mission developer fairly new to our synod. He was asked to share what was going on in his church. So he started with numbers, since that's where you start. His church is now worshipping 240-260 members each Sunday.
There was a collective "mmm" of appreciation for this news. It is good news, I think. But I am not sure that it is news which surpasses the 160-190 hungry souls fed by the first parish. And I'm not sure why we think it is.