Congregations are tired.
Some very sincere, very likeable congregations are showing signs of serious fatigue.
Not all congregations are tired. You know who you are. You look tired. You sound tired. When asked, you admit you are tired.
You do perk up a little when you dream of the unchurched people out there who would love your church. You are working to seek them, but they haven’t found you yet.
Why do you want those new people in your church? “Because we are tired. We need help with the work of the church.
You may dream of deploying your energetic new members to the tired places: the low-attendance Christian Education Committee; the unstaffed nursery; the church treasurer vacancy; or the Building and Grounds Committee, whose aged members are no longer able to do all of the maintenance and repair.
If anyone ever joined a church to be on a board or committee, they likely joined up with church before the 1970s.
In 1974, President Nixon’s resignation battered the national psyche with its shocking betrayal of our trust in institutions like the presidency that formerly inspired trust. About that time, people began to stop joining church simply because it was “the right thing to do.”
Church as “duty” – civic, personal, spiritual – lost its appeal. Those who do join church to “go to church” as a reliable institution to do “church work” are getting very tired.
You are tired of working on the business of church.
You may think – or you’ve been told – that being asked to add your name to a church organization chart is a good sign, an affirmation of belonging, a promotion.
“You would be perfect for this job,” you may have been told, without ever hearing your new job description.
The less fortunate hear this plea: “We need someone to fill that slot. You are our last hope.” (Yes, you did say that.)
You tired church saints have worked on church business so long that your “church work” has become the work of the church. To say that the work of the Budget Committee and the Altar Guild is the business of the church is like saying that keeping the bathrooms clean and the creamer jugs full is the business of Starbucks.
Yes, maintenance and support work needs to be done in any business. Still, in order to serve the coffee hot and quickly to the masses, most Starbucks employees will be selling and serving coffee, most of the time. They will be working in the business, not on the business.
What if you tired church workers spent more time working together in the business that God in Jesus Christ gave us to do?
Call it a mission. Call it a purpose. Call it a call. The point is to get together and be clear about the business outcome.
The church birthed from the resurrection power of Jesus is in the business of transformation.
The “product?” Changed lives – changed relationships – changed world.
Here’s an interesting thing I’ve noticed about church committees: You really do want to be communities.
In church meetings, sisters and brothers in Christ seem to naturally drift “off topic” and wander toward sharing one another’s lives in a way that is life-changing. A business interruption can transform the ordinary into a holy moment that is day-brightening and spirit-enlightening and relationship birthing. And then someone stops it by saying, “We need to get back to business or we’ll never get out of here.”
No wonder you – we – get so tired working in church. The hardest workers dig ever deeper in their dedication to church community and church institution. The stalwarts (thank God for you!) are only too happy to work ever harder on the business. With fewer and fewer people to support outdated buildings and cumbersome organizational structures, no wonder everyone is so tired.
You weary beloved church members have this in common with the new members you are hoping to meet: You all came through the doors of the church seeking changed lives.
You believe that life in Christ has saving power, and you are ready to partner with others in that “changed lives” business.
A modest proposal to relieve church burnout:
More time working in the business God gave the church and less time working on church business. Congregations, with God’s help, can set that intention and make those changes for your future congregation.
Because your next new member isn’t looking for your church so they can relieve what ails us.
Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a UCC pastor, parent of three adult children, and grandparent to two grandchildren. She has served congregations in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Louisiana as a settled pastor and as an interim specialist. Her essay ‘The Good Samaritan Test’ appears in ‘There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Women Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor.’ She blogs at revmama.com.