State of the Church – December 2018

I was reminded recently of just how important it is to get the whole picture!
Our local StarTribune newspaper has run a series of articles this year about the changing trends in religion and churches in our country, and the latest installment ran in early November. It was a very good article, supported by plenty of strong research, and it reports the trends accurately. But I fear the title of the article, “Fastest Growing Religion is ‘None,” could send the reader away thinking all churches are doomed, which is far from reality. Particularly at Mount Calvary.
Are these trends real? Yes, absolutely. Should Mount Calvary members be worried about this? Not today.
We don’t need to look far for evidence that there are churches in trouble; Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, which provides critical daycare and food shelf services in their community, has seen their congregation dwindle over the years, leading to a need for outside assistance which we gladly support. But while the StarTribune article is helpful in articulating some general trends inner-city and rural churches are facing today, this is clearly not the case for all churches. In fact, if we look further, we can even find some positive signals and evidence of opportunities ahead for churches like ours. We just need to dig a bit deeper, get a bit more information, and paint a more complete picture of our own outlook
The importance of “completing the picture” was made very evident to me several years ago by a simple example; hold up a bowl between two people with the bottom facing one person and the top facing the other and ask what shape the object is, convex or concave. Obviously, each person will have a different answer even though they are looking at the same object because their information is incomplete. Gathering more information, from different perspectives and sources, can often enhance our understanding.
In preparation for some upcoming Church Council activities, I’ve recently reviewed several survey and research reports from a collection of reputable sources that can add depth and color to the picture sketched out by the recent newspaper article. Interestingly, a 2015 report by Scott Thumma, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at Hartford Seminary and the director of Hartford Institute for Religion Research, found that the vast majority of congregations with 500-1799 weekly worshipers (Mount Calvary is in this category, near the low end) are growing quite rapidly compared to smaller churches, at a median 5-year growth rate of 17%. In addition, almost three-quarters (72%) reported their financial health as good or excellent. So, while there are broad, general issues for some categories of churches, this does not reflect the situation or outlook for our church.
Importantly, a couple of reports I read also highlighted the importance of “spiritual vitality” to the healthy condition of a congregation. The message here is that churches can determine their destiny if they remain innovative and relevant to their members. After attending a very relevant and rousing Sunday service, participating in a well-attended new member meeting, hearing about some recent community support/interaction from our neighbors at Wells Fargo, and seeing the success of the Many Hands, Many Meals packathon at our church – all within the past two days – I have no doubts about the vitality of Mount Calvary. Be assured, our congregation is thriving!