Thursday, March 29, 2007

Daring to Be A Different Church

In an earlier post, I discussed the importance of attracting the unchurched back to church through innovations like You Tube. I also noted, however, that once folks entered our doors and attended services, we would need to offer them a reason to stay.

Father Patrick Gahan, rector of St. Stephen’s Church, Wimberley, Texas, recently wrote a very thoughtful article about how to do just that. Here are the highlights of what he had to say:

"At St. Stephen’s, the parish I serve, we decided to scrape the rust off tired, contentious, and unhealthy practices and dare to do church another way. In just 18 months, our attendance is up some 100 worshipers per Sunday, our monetary giving has increased by some 45 percent, and participation in our adult formation classes has increased by more than 100 percent. More importantly, St. Stephen’s has become a much more vibrant faith community because we have taken these five very practical roads to revival:

"1. The Episcopal parish community must extend radical, unbridled welcome. The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for the righteous. The deepest joy of a congregation is only realized when it lovingly gathers new Christians into the community. Unfortunately, most of our congregations are insular, and the closest they come to inviting in the stranger is the guest register placed in the narthex that no one bothers to read. . . . .

"2. The Episcopal parish community must insist upon systematic, comprehensive formation. If the church invites people to supper, we must give them something to eat. When a family gets up on Sunday, forgoes a leisurely morning, shakes their toddler into her tights, and rushes out the door to church, they are looking for something substantive they cannot get at home with their Starbucks coffee and New York Times. They deserve to be fed. . .

"3. The Episcopal parish community must engage in disciplined daily prayer and Bible study.Every revival in the history of the Christian Church has been accompanied by increased Bible study and prayer. The crowning and most distinctive elements of the Episcopal liturgy are daily Morning and Evening Prayer. Outside of our cathedrals, however, very few of our parishes observe the morning and evening offices with any regularity. I can assure you that the practice has warmed up our parish. . . .Put together a team of folks to write simple meditations on one of the assigned scriptures each day, read them at the Daily Office celebrations, and e-mail them to the entire parish. You will soon have a sizeable number in your congregation reading the Bible and praying every day.

"4. The Episcopal parish community must be committed to faithful, generous outreach. The Christian life cannot be abstracted. Never has that fact been more important. . . . Following our Lord, we must focus our energies outside of ourselves in order to save us from the ugliest Episcopal sin of all — narcissism! . . .

"5. The Episcopal parish community must exude irrepressible, inexhaustible joy. “The church is certainly a happy place,” I hear during my Sunday evening phone calls. It has long been my practice to call each person who visits our parish later on Sunday night. It’s rare that one does not state how animated, friendly, and joyful our people appear. Joy is the ingredient most characteristic of Christians, yet it is an ingredient sorely missing from many of our parishes right now. "

It is worth reading the whole thing.


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