I have recently been reading the book Renovate or Die: Ten Ways to Focus Your Church on Mission by Rev. Bob Farr. In his book, he makes the point I have both heard and seen in numerous other places, which is “Most churches are floundering or failing because they have little to no expectations of what it is to be a part of the church.” Farr says most churches ingrain in their members the idea, “Come a little bit, do a little bit, give a little bit, and expect a whole lot.” He goes on to say that when a “whole lot” doesn’t come, most people either move on to another church and start the cycle over again or they stop coming all together.
The most formative years of my ministry occurred while I was serving at Acts 2 United Methodist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. Acts 2 is a church plant, a church that had just been started, and I was able to be involved in the church during the period where it was still being determined what kind of church it was going to be. During this time, the senior minister was adamant that the church would have a membership covenant people signed when they joined the church which would stress high accountability. It said they would regularly be involved in Bible studies and mission work. They would come to worship unless they were sick or out of town. They would actively and regularly pray and read their Bibles at home, and they would start giving a percentage of their income to the church the day they joined, and they would work to be giving a full tithe—10 percent—of their income to the church within five years.
Can you guess what happened when we did this?
Do you think nobody joined and the church had to be closed?
When I left, Acts 2 had grown from 120 people in worship to between 500 and 600. More than two-thirds of the people pledging to the church were giving a full tithe, and it had become one of the fastest-growing large churches in Oklahoma United Methodism.
I don’t believe there is anything particularly special about Edmond that made this possible. I do believe what made this happen was having the same high expectations of church members that Jesus had of all of his followers. We stayed true to my understanding of the biblical message by saying, “To be a follower of Jesus Christ and to get better at it takes effort and intentionality. Like anything else in our life, being a disciple of Jesus Christ takes dedication and work, and growing in our faith will never just somehow happen on its own.”
I fully believe as individuals and as a church we can experience the same kind of Christian growth, and more if we are willing to make the same kind of dedicated effort.
As we prepare to kick off the fall season here at St. Paul’s with Welcome Back to Church Sunday on August 16, I encourage you to ask yourself, “How much am I willing to invest in growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ?” I fully believe that a group of believers, no matter how big or how small, dedicated to Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, can make a difference that can barely be imagined, and I believe that kind of Christ-like difference can begin at St. Paul’s.
Join me August 16 at our Welcome Back to Church Sunday as we begin this new season in the life of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.