I walked away from last week’s workshop with the Rev. Susan Smith, our district executive, energized and enthused about the coming church year, which begins in August. As I sat with the bulk of our First Church leadership—past, present, and future—I marveled at the dedication and talent in the room.
One thing Rev. Smith lifted up was some encouragement to affirm our maturity as a large congregation. Our growth has been staggering: Sunday attendance in the 2006/2007 church year was about 159. Last year that grew to 197, and this year we have averaged 234. Put another way, in the past two years we’ve added a small congregation of about 75 people to our worship each week. But rather than continue to fixate on numbers, we’re at a point in our growth to turn to deepening our understanding of what it means to be a large church: in the community, for the seekers who lighten our door, for our world and ourselves. It’s time for us to just “be” the church as it is right now, to celebrate it and find joy in all that we’re sharing and experiencing. As Rev. Smith noted, five percent growth in a congregation is reasonable (if not amazing). Ten percent is self-regulating and usually unsustainable. With our 16 percent annual growth in worship and 9 in membership, slowing down and assessing the meaning of our shared ministry—as it heals the hurts of the world!—will go a long way in the years to come. It’s time “to hold what we have.”
I’m also in discernment about the coming year of ministry, and I’m dedicated to slowing down so that I, too, maintain a sustainable pace. As I encourage you to live healthy and balanced lives, I realize that I haven’t always heeded my own words. That said, I’m excited about the Pastoral Associates program that starts officially in the fall—a program that will help us better share the work of pastoral care. I’m also energized around some recent opportunities for outreach to our military community, a ministry you’ve asked me to engage. Launching these initiatives will take some re-prioritizing on my part, and I’ll be pulling back some from activities —such as public witness and weekly interfaith work—where you, the congregation, are strongly engaged and effective. Of course, program areas that are my primary responsibilities—including worship, administration, vision/mission work, and spiritual development—will always be my highest priority, and I view that my role in secondary areas is to put energy into programs that are developing, and then refocus as they become successful. There are so many talented and creative individuals among us; our ministry demands to be shared!