2014 State of the Church Address: Numbers & Soul: Why I’m Not Worried
Third Sunday of Eastertide - 11.May.2014
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell
First Lesson: Jeremiah 10:17-25
Why I/We Should Be Worried
Of the 250,000 Protestant congregations in America, 200,000 are either stagnant or in decline. 200,000 out of 250,000, that is 80% are either stagnant or in decline, 80%.
Every year 4,000 churches close, that is roughly 76 each week.
Every day 3,500 people leave the churches they call home.
Since 1965 each of the seven denominations that makes up Mainline Protestantism – United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Presbyterian Church, USA, Episcopal Church of America, American Baptist Churches, USA, United Church of Christ, & Disciples of Christ – has reported a decline. Some have called for the end of the term Mainline, instead using Oldline or Deadline.
There are 25 million less Mainline Protestants since the 1950s.
This year Alban Institute closed. The church consultant agency, that has focused on forming healthy mainline congregations closed.
This year the American Bible Society is selling its 12 story building in downtown Manhattan.
There are no more brick and mortar Cokesbury stores!
And most seminaries are either hanging by a thread or operating at a membrane thin margin. In last few years every Mainline seminary has either had to cut faculty and staff, sell buildings, or like Seabury Western and Bangor Seminary closed.
Many biblical scholars have turned to the theme of exile as the metaphor to describe the current state of decline amongst Mainline Protestantism; tradition that has been torn from the land, left blowing in the wind, and composting in the dustbin of history. And that is what keeps me up at night: to think that a life-giving tradition with names such as Roger Williams, Harriet Bishop, Martin Luther King, Jr, Henry Ward Beecher, William Sloane Coffin, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Howard Thurman, Vida Scudder, Georgia Harkness, or Sallie McFague would up and die.
Sometimes I feel like a member of the rear guard who is still fighting a battle when the war was long ago lost.
A few years ago I decided maybe my future as a clergy person is to hold onto liberal Protestantism by serving communities that were willing to persevere…and had a large endowment.
Why I’m/We’re Not Worried
Then for reasons I am still trying to figure out, we stumbled upon each other and ever since I have given up on the idea of Exile as the working metaphor of our tradition; and I’ve given up on the idea that a healthy, robust, and vibrant liberal Protestant church is a relic and a thing of the past. Furthermore, each time my mind starts to think that we are not going to make it, something beautiful and amazing happens here and I think what I fool I was for thinking otherwise.
This is not a period of Exile, this is a time of flourishing, of hope, of imagination, of promise, of homecoming, of restoration, of new beginning.
Second Lesson Jeremiah 31:7-14
I want to offer you some numbers. Now I know that y’all do not look to me as a numbers person, but believe it or not, on certain days of the year I can be a detailed oriented person.
Simply put, look at the numbers. The benchmark for what a church can look like is to take the average attendance for Christmas Eve and Easter over the course of a few years. In normal years Judson has averaged 200 for both Christmas Eve and Easter services. Last year our average Sunday attendance was 108. So the goal is within five years to have our Sunday attendance be the same as our Christmas and Easter average. That would take an average of at least 18.4 new members each year. But we know some people will move, others will disassociate, and some will die, so the number is more like 25 each year.
Keep in mind, about 200 maybe up to 250, that would be the maximum we could go for Judson to still be Judson. Any bigger than that and we’d have to talk about spinning off and starting another church, which would be exciting too. But that is a good piece off.
Now that number of 200 for weekly worship may sound insurmountable, but look at it this way:
Each Sunday we average at least one visitor. Over the course of the year that’s 52 visitors. We can attain our magic number just by retaining ½ of our visitors. I know, I know, some are visitors from out of town, some are family members on vacation, and for others Judson just aint what they’re looking for. Okay but don’t get down yet.
Each week the parents and caregivers of 119 preschoolers walk through our doors (not to mention special events when grandparents attend).
Each week roughly 100 volunteers for Meals on Wheels enter our building.
Each week visitors and friends attend yoga, painting groups, community events, book groups, bible study, to rehearse, to play musical instruments, to sit in the quiet of the sanctuary, to deliver supplies, drop off correspondence, check on things, nose around, and seek help.
And what about the folk who attended concerts (over 200 were visitors).
And what about those who stop by at Street Fest?
And those who attend, or listen in on at the Bandshell?
And those who visit us in a virtual way on our webpage or via facebook? And those who find out about us via Pride events,
while we are at public events at the state capitol,
or various venues in and throughout the metro area?
Numbers are on our side. Each day, week, month, season, and year we come in contact with more than 25 prospective members of this community. They find us with little or no effort on our part – and that is an amazing fact! Maybe the most amazing fact of all.
It means we do not have to devote thousands of dollars in marketing, branding, and outreach.
It does mean, however, we have to do an intentional job of making sure we hold onto those 25 future members: connecting with them in meaningful ways, inviting them, integrating them, and letting them help shape the future and mission of this church. No matter what the event, how big or small, if everyone there is a friend or not, we have to keep the steady drumbeat of invitation going again and again and again and again.
Sure, it would be great if our financial numbers were a little bit stronger. But again, I’m not worried. It would be different if we had to shake the bushes, call and beg people to find their way to Judson. It would be different if we out of hand budget deficits, it would be different if we weren’t growing. The budget may not be balanced, we are looking at somewhere in the range of $8,000 in the red. But that numbers would happen if every committee and entity spent all of their budget and it assumes that there will be no growth numerically: new pledges and givers, or grants. So balance the budget with a simply line of faith: expected growth! We expect as a congregation to grow this year, we expect new members, we expect new streams of revenue and funding for ministry. I, for one, expect growth.
Now a focus on the soul of Judson. I simply want to highlight some of what happened here last year.
Bandshell service in the freezing cold, with Wayne and Cheryl throwing snowballs for the time with children.
The different summer musicians we heard, the exchange of the Episcopals and the Gospel 5.
Judson presence at the American Baptist Biennial in Kansas City
Youth Mission trip where they learned about youth homelessness
Brent Walker from the Baptist Joint Committee visit and Twins game with UBC.
Sundaes on Sundays
Installation of the Little Library
Table at Pride
Hiring of Brett as Children & Youth Coordinator
The new life created by Marriage Equality
Char and Barbara singing This Land Is Your Land with a new verse celebrating marriage equality!
And that was just last Summer.
The use of Ranked Choice Voting for best hotdish offering.
Mac Chatfield winning the Silver Lamb award
We needed space for a new Sunday School Class
Blessing of the Animals
Wedding Celebrations at second hour
Shower of Stoles
AWAB 20TH anniversary
Michaelmas service with Struan bread and Celtic music
Great Gatherings – and the amazing amount that involved alcohol and that they were all overflowing with attendees.
The amount of people who ended up getting flu shots on the Sunday we offered them!
The Rutter Requiem! And let us give thanks to the choir, Jim and John!
The arrival of David Bloom
The dedication of Chip’s stained glass window and blessing of Chip’s endeavor in Thailand.
End of Liturgical year service with candles
Advent The kid’s bulletin covers
The Christmas pageant
Sara Thompsen Solstice concert
The lutefisk sermon
The White Elephant party and the amazing surprise of Silver Lamb that Mac Chatfield won in the Fall.
As the calendar year closed: the amazing amount of stuff on the Lost and Found table.
First Jazz Sunday – king cake, chicory coffee, king cake babies
Pancake Brinner – folk eating like it was the last supper
Trust MLK, Jr service
Renewal of Baptismal vows/promise
Second Jazz service, (who can enough jazz?) the premiere at Judson of Josh Johnson’s original composition Cora.
The GSA Drag Queen/King ball/party
Lenten reflections on the Psalms
Ash Wednesday service (interesting that more people attended the showing of the Life of Brian than attended the Ash Wednesday service, not sure what that says about Judson…)
Locking up of the Alleluias
Maundy Thursday service
Good Friday with UBC
Easter Morning and the release of the Alleluias
Dinner and a Show
Low Sunday & Hendrix’s second hour with his doctor!
Blessing of the graduates
You heard 74 different musicians
You heard over 30 different liturgies.
You heard 13 different people offer Time with Children
You heard 8 different preachers
You heard at least 72 voices reading psalms, reading scripture, & leading prayers.
For Second Hour
9/22, 9/29, 10/6, 10/13: Kate Brady & Katherine Barton on meditation/Reinventing your future
10/20 Norvell reflections on weddings
10/27, 11/3, 11/10 Rev Julie Neraas on Stages of Life
12/1 Trust Parish Nurse
12/8 Chuck Dayton Interfaith Power & Light
12/15 Dr Carolyn Pressler UTS on Advent
12/22 Prof Mark Sealy Climate Changes, we had Mark Sealy here! Just imagine if would have had Carl Kasell here on the same day!
12/29 D Moore on ABC Biennial on social justice
1/5 Norvell on epiphany
1/26 Sr Stories ? re: Gracie Jones 100+ yrs
2/2, 2/9, 2/16/ Rev Bloom & TN Social Justice
2/23 Doug Wallace Academy Awards films
3/2 Kate Brady Loving Kindness
3/9 Kate Brady Loving Kindness
3/18 Rev Dr. Eric Baretto
3/23 Missions on Youth Link
4/29 Hendrix Johnson & his MD
5/4, 5/11 Judson Youth DVD
We celebrated the weddings or recommitments of
R and R, K & L, M & G, J & M, N and S, the surprise wedding of S and M, and the not surprising, but lovely, wedding of D and A!
We dedicated C and G
We baptized J and L
We welcomed new members: Garrio and Joanna, Sand, Rich, and Jeff.
A dozen of you were at the state capital for the MN Interfaith Power and Light rally for the environment
What about the food we donate for Joyce’s Food Shelf?
The funds for Starfish
Funds for mission, we’ve already given over $24,000.
The countless visits, cards, phone calls, and meals delivered to those in need.
The hours given to Meals on Wheels, making Judson look great, The Gathering, decorating for the season, correcting my grammar, moving things, hours given to meetings, personnel reviews, the sincere and heartfelt greetings. The hours and hearts given in service on the Worship, Mission, Christian Education, Adult Education, Property, Personnel, Finance, Building Use, Planning and Policy, Membership/Leadership/Stewardship, Congregational Care, & Street Fest Committees, in addition to the Soup Group, TRUST representatives, Loaves and Fishes, Spiritual Voyageurs, Ushers, Second Hour coffee and treats, Church Officers, and historian. The way you uphold, inspire, and push each other to be better human beings. The way we embrace our mixture of Northern Exposure and Vicar of Dibleyness. The freedom to cry & laugh on Sunday morning. And maybe the most telling sign of your health as a congregation: the willingness to talk through difficult places.
From my own perspective: on several occasions I have said things in such a manner that if taken the wrong way could have been hurtful, rather than let that sit and fester, you approached me and asked for clarification. On all accounts we laughed off the unintended message but that does not undercut the amount of courage and trust that took, for that I am extremely thankful. Let us not stop this partnership, it is a work in progress. But well worth the time and effort. I describe it as slow church. I have intentions of being here a long time, I want to continue to take my time, when I can, on developing and nurturing relationships for the long term. This is frustrating, probably, for both of us but it will be worth it.
This is an amazing and beautiful place. On the one hand it is a sanctuary, the last stop for many on the journey of religious life, helping them get through life. On the other hand it is a dynamo of religious power and grace propelling others to change the world.
It is true I’m not silver with wisdom but I’ve been around and a part of enough different religious communities in this nation to know this is a special and unique place – do not take it for granted, let us build and expand making sure this is a vibrant, robust, and thriving community. Amen.