Thursday, January 27, 2011

Everybody On Board? (Dialogue Column 1.18.11)

(This piece was originally written for The Dialogue, the newsletter of the church where I serve, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of St. Joseph, MO.)

This past Sunday afternoon, I was privileged to gather with the members of FCC’s Administrative Board at the lovely home of the Tushaus family.  This group of church leaders is a wonderful mix of long-term and new members—half of the board is made up of members who have joined the church in the last four years!  I’ve said it before that a strength of this church is its willingness to integrate new members into leadership instead of rigidly holding on to control for control’s sake.  This new board had a great discussion about the current state of our church and where we hope to see it move in the future.  I want to share some of what was discussed with the larger congregation, so that as we move forward, we do so together. 
There is a common understanding by board members that we face some difficult challenges as a church, but thankfully we are not without resources.  The number of active members of FCC has decreased steadily over many decades, although the addition of new members in recent years has slowed that decline.  Perhaps the negative effects of this decline are felt most acutely in the current state of church finances.  If it were not for the income earned from the church endowment (funds left to the church in the estates of deceased church members), we would be in the position of cutting church staff and being unable to maintain our historic building.  Giving to the annual church budget continues to decline as we lose older members to illness and death, and thus far, giving by new members has not made up for that loss.  In addition to finances, the board also discussed the difficulties involved with maintaining a large historic building and remaining downtown.
(Before I go any further, let me reassure folks that there was absolutely no discussion of leaving our current building and location.  The minister and the board are both committed to providing on-going ministry where we are now.)
Despite these challenges, as I mentioned above, First Christian is not without resources.  Instead of focusing discussion upon what we don’t have, the board chose to take time listing our church’s assets.  The board drew up the following list of FCC assets: 
  • God is with us,
  •  we are a welcoming congregation,
  • we have an open-minded theology,
  • we value freedom of thought/belief,
  • we practice open communion,
  •  we are an “Open and Affirming” church,
  • we have a talented minister and staff,
  • we have a beautiful building that includes a kitchen facility, social room stage and recent capital improvements,
  • we have an endowment,
  • we have a traditional style of worship that is reverent but not stuffy,
  • we have vital outreach ministries like Royal Family Kids Camp, Open Door Food Kitchen, Fall Fun at First, etc.,
  • we have a strong choir and talented musicians,
  • we have lots of new members whom we welcome into leadership,
  • we have many prospects for new members,
  •  we have long-term members who remain committed to the church, and the number of children in the church has grown significantly in recent years. 
After listing our church’s assets, the board talked about concrete ways they will work to make use of these assets to address the current challenges of our church.  I am pleased to say that the board was in unanimous agreement that we must not fall into the trap of making our focus one of self-preservation.  Once that inward turn has been made, a church has lost its vision and its true identity.  Instead, our focus should be upon self-sacrifice: i.e. how can we give of ourselves as a community of faith to a city and world that needs what we have to offer?  As our church leaders seek to answer that question this year, I hope our entire church will support them in prayer and action.

Grace and Peace,


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