Sunday, January 24, 2010

At the Center and at the Margins

Bishop Schnase challenged us at Minister’s School last week, that we must be both at the center and the margins if we are to be effective in reaching those beyond our church’s walls.

A story worth repeating: Re: “One seventy five, two years, three fifty.” (worship attendance)

In 2002 I flew to Dallas, TX, to attend “Christian Believer” leader training. When I arrived at registration, I noticed a person on the list from Winner, SD, 35 miles from my home town. The registrar told me, “Be careful which table you sit at because that’s the group you will be with for the entire training session.”

I went in, absurdly believing I could recognize somebody from Winner, SD, and finally settled on a table with two adjacent empty chairs. Five minutes later Ross from Winner, SD, came in a sat next to me. The dynamics of the weekend were heightened since J. Ellsworth Kalas was teaching and Ross had recently completed his doctorate with Kalas as his advisor.

As the weekend progressed, I could tell that Ross had something special happening at his Winner (population 3500) church. He said, “When I arrived two years ago, we had 175 in worship. Now we have 350.” (That’s 175, two years, 350!) I said, “You need to tell me.”

“Well, when I arrived the congregation was ready to make a move. We decided to emphasize worship and youth, and to tell everyone, “You don’t have to be an evangelist, you don’t have to be a theologian, all you have to say is ‘I go to church. Church is important to me. Church makes a difference in my life. Won’t you join me this Sunday.’ And then we make sure that worship provides them something to take away.” Ross also told of their community Halloween youth activity that gathered 600 kids!

As it turns out, my step-mom has cousins that live in Winner (Episcopalians). At a Thanksgiving gathering a year later, I asked them, “You need to tell me about Ross.” Their reply was, “Oh, Ross is important not only to the Methodist Church, he’s important to the community.”

Ross’ brother Kyle just happened to be my sister-in-law’s pastor, 35 miles down the road from Winner. Much smaller church, but good growth and the church loved him. I asked about Kyle’s participation in the community. She told me that if there was a game, Kyle was there, if there was a function at the community center, Kyle was there. If there was a funeral at the parlor or another church, Kyle was there. If there was an award ceremony at the courthouse, Kyle is there.

At the center, but even more importantly, at the margins. What do we have to do to have it said of us, “Oh, he’s (she’s) not just important to the Methodist Church, he’s (she’s) important to the community”?