Some time ago I was watching and listening to a religious TV programme on one of the digital channels. Usually I find them unhelpful but this was something different. It was a number of talks that had been delivered in the United States for a Ministers/Pastors Conference. Something a speaker said made me think very carefully. He was talking about church growth and he said it is important that we have a dream on what our churches can become and how they can develop. Have we got a dream? Or are our dreams shattered before we can even try to bring them to fruition?
One of the first things he spoke about was how every church seems to have people who try to kill off any idea or plans for change. “We’ve never done it like that” or “We want things to stay as they are” or “We tried that years ago and it doesn’t work” To attempt any form of evangelism you need a positive attitude and those statements are totally negative. I suppose he should know; recently his church which had a regular attendance when he went there of 200 now has such an increased congregation that they have rebuilt it to seat 7,500 people. And it is regularly full on a Sunday.
The other thing that was said during the time I watched is that we must value what we have been given rather than always talking it down. If, for example, we say things like “we haven’t got anything.” or “There’s no hope here.” or “The situation is hopeless.” or “there’s nobody who can do this job so I have to do it” we are in danger of being like the person who has nothing, (or who thinks he has nothing) so that the little he has “even that he has is taken from him” (see the Gospels). We must look on people positively. It is part of our duty as Christians to enable people to grow both spiritually and in responsibility. To give an example, I talked to a priest who told me that if he asked a member of his congregation to take on any task and they agreed he would never do that job himself. He quoted how the parish magazine was not published one month at the right time. He wouldn’t print it himself as that was somebody’s else’s responsibility. If it came out late that was their decision. If a reader failed to arrive on a Sunday, he would just sit in the priests chair until somebody actually got fed up with waiting and did it. I helped at one such service and after what seemed to me an eternity I (as an ordinand based in the parish) got up to do it and was very firmly told to sit down. After a short time, one of the congregation stood up, went to the Lectern and read the lesson. He explained that Christians have to take responsibility seriously. If he (or I) covered a lapse how would they ever learn and develop. I thought he was a bit tough on people but in fact the church was flourishing with 100/150 at Parish Mass and on Parade Sundays congregations of 2/300. He had an enthusiastic team of lay people undertaking all manner of tasks. Yes, sometimes he was let down but he regarded that as a learning experience both for the person and for himself.