From the Desk of Pastor Olsen
So what is "the main thing" for us here at Trinity? Let me begin by telling you what it is not. It's not about getting more members. It's not about meeting the budget. It's not about managing to survive into the next decade. It's not about maintaining or improving our building and facilities. It's not about starting more programs or expanding the ones we have. It's not about getting the liturgy right or singing the hymns we love. It's not about fellowship, service or even evangelism. Any one of those things might be important, but none of them is the main thing. The main thing for us at Trinity is making disciples. That is what I want to talk to you about at our next round of Cottage meetings in June.
You are all aware that throughout the United States protestant mainline churches are fast losing membership and support. According to one source I recently read, the high watermark for worship attendance came around 1965. Since that time, there has only been "continual leakage." By the year 2020, another 20% shrinkage will have occurred. If this trend continues, fifty-five thousand more congregations will close between now and 2050. Peter L. Steinke, A Door Set Open, (c. 2010, The Alban Institute), p. 17. Yet in the shadow of all this bad news, there is some remarkably good news. Many congregations are bucking the trend and thriving. These churches are diverse in many respects. Some are conservative evangelical, some are liberal-progressive in their outlook. Some of these churches are rural while many are urban or suburban. Among them are mainline churches like us Lutherans, but some of them are non-denominational churches ranging from mega-church to house church size. Yet they all have one common denominator: their main thing is making disciples.
Let me be clear about one thing: making disciples is not increasing membership. No doubt you have heard me say that I don't much care about membership. In fact, I am not looking for a large membership increase because, frankly, we cannot afford it. Members are not disciples, they are consumers. Consumers consume. They join a church the same way they join a spa or fitness center. They look for the best deal, the one that gives them a lot of what they want for the least amount money and effort. They will remain only until some other church (or other organization) offers them a better deal. The care and feeding of members is an exhausting, thankless and ultimately futile job. We don't have time for it.
Stephen Richards Covey
Making disciples is a whole different ball game. Discipleship is following Jesus and making disciples means getting people excited about discipleship. We cannot begin to do that unless we are excited ourselves. The first disciples didn't leave everything to follow Jesus because they had nothing better to do. They followed him because the caught a whiff of a new, abundant life and they wanted to get in on the ground floor. Excitement is contagious. Thriving churches are exciting places; places where people come to church with burning questions, longing for lively discussion and eager for opportunities to serve Jesus. If I may be blunt, we should be having fun. If we aren't, we might as well shut our doors now and call it quits. Discipleship is hard, dangerous and sometimes frustrating work. But it is never dull. It is filled with surprises and new discoveries. There is no more exciting and rewarding task than learning to see the world through the lens of the Bible.
Moreover, discipleship is not a numbers game. The church started out with just twelve. Jesus tells us all you need is two or more. That is why one hundred new members would not contribute anything to Trinity except more work for your pastor and congregational leaders who already have enough work, thank you. Five more disciples, however, could change the whole complexion of our congregation. There is no future for us in anything but discipleship with Jesus. That is why we need to make sure that the main thing remains the main thing.