By 2009 there were 10,657 congregations and 2.08 million members.
There’s no way to sugarcoat these distressing figures given that Christianity offers the wounded world the best news ever — resurrection.
But instead of doing what some big-church pastors did Feb. 2 in an open letter — move toward schism by insisting on “like-minded” theological purity— I want us to think about resurrection. Let’s ask whether, in light of Jesus’ resurrection, we still believe resurrection is possible in other areas.
For instance, can we resurrect what’s left of the Presbyterian Church’s dry bones? This season leading to Easter is a good time to ask that.
If I’m looking for examples of mainline church resurrections, I need look no further than what my friend Adam Hamilton has accomplished at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection (COR) in suburban Kansas City. As Adam says, he started the church in 1990 with four people and a dream. Today more than 15,000 people call COR home (including one of my daughters and her family).
This astonishing growth happened for many reasons, but primarily because the church reached out intentionally to the unchurched who were looking for meaning in their lives. Then it made such people feel welcome.
The risk in that approach, of course, is that worship services in which sermons often sound like college lectures on Christianity 101 eventually will cause more theologically mature people to find what they need elsewhere. Adam’s genius is that he’s managed to appeal to seekers as well as to Christians well marinated in theology.
I also can look at my own congregation to find hope in denominational resurrection. We had a good 13 or so years under our most recent pastor and experienced some growth (though we were reluctant to clean membership rolls). Then we went through a two-year interim period when some good things continued to happen but in which some of the spirit seemed to drain away. We were flat and not attracting new members or inspiring current members much.
But last year we called a new pastor who quickly has managed to find our strengths and point them out to us in ways that make us want to use them. He’s helped us recapture the vision of a congregation that comes together to find its center in Jesus Christ but that then moves out beyond the walls of the church to live out the gospel among needy people.
We’re not an ideological congregation, by which I mean we don’t have a narrow agenda. Rather, everyone may have a voice and we try to listen in love.
So in the last six months we’ve taken in more new members than we had in the previous two years — and excitement for ministry beyond our walls is high. Why? Because people know they can ask hard questions and can find deep and eternal meaning for their lives here.
And what, after all, is resurrection without the accompanying gift of its meaning?
BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his latest book. E-mail him at [email protected].