“Some people will never come back.”
I’ve heard church people saying some variation of this for months and months. Sometimes it’s said with blame, directed at those who will never come back or at leaders whose pandemic policies they perceive as pushing people away.
Maybe most often I’ve heard it said with resignation. The way we might throw up our hands at a spell of bad weather. As if to say, “What can you do? Nothing.”
Whether blame or resignation, fear is beneath it.
True hope includes fear and doesn’t dismiss it. True hope senses both danger and opportunity. It’s in touch with what’s at stake and trusts that God cares too and is already working on it. True hope hears the call to pitch in as God’s hands and feet.
My hope is in this: Jesus died to create congregations. Jesus’ goal was not to create individual believers. Instead Jesus died and rose again to create communities of people who embody Christ with and for each other and the world.
Remember how Jesus gathered people together. The disciples. The in-home gatherings that spilled into the streets. The 5,000. The sinners and prostitutes. The sick and well, rich and poor. Around table after table. On the road. By the sea. Over and over and with intention, Jesus created new experiences of life together, taught a new way to be together, and eventually was killed by those who resisted it. And when Jesus rose, he gathered the “congregation” again and gave his living Spirit not to one or a few but to the whole.
God cares so much about congregations that God in Jesus gave God’s very life for them. For Zion. We are Christ’s new social reality. Jesus knows the message needs messengers, and more. It needs context. That’s who we are as a congregation--a community of messengers and a context of relationships in which that message of love can be heard and received with trust.
Jesus did not die to save the Temple. That’s not because they were Jews and we are Christians. Instead, this reveals Jesus calling us, Zion Lutheran Church, to adapt into a new way of being together. To become more truly and more clearly a sign of God’s loving presence in the world.
I worry that with a “Some people will never come back” attitude, we deny our calling to behold God doing a new thing.
I also worry we risk forgetting who we are.
“We joined one church and no one came to the reception to meet us. Then we joined Zion and someone told me, ‘I wasn’t going to come to worship today but then I remembered you were becoming members today! I knew I had to be there!’” A Zion person said this. Another said, “Zion is like a small town church in the city.” Another, “It’s the family feeling.”
Again and again, I hear it: people intentionally welcoming, including, and inviting is what makes Zion Zion. In this context, we have come to trust that God truly is like the father of the prodigal sons. There for us no matter who we are and how we’ve wandered. Running to meet us. Embarrassingly excited we’ve come home. Sparing no expense.
Zion people have done this for you, and that is why you’re reading this right now. Remember who you are!
Why wait until people wander across the threshold of the building? Why not run out to meet them? Why would we let them never come back?
Picking up the phone or putting a note in the mail is a simple but powerful act. Thank you for making these connections. And I sense this moment invites more: Remembering we are a community, not just a bunch of individuals. Doing a new thing with God.
Imagine this. A team of 20 people spends half a day in training on how to listen deeply. Then the team is blessed and sent from worship, and over seven weeks, it reaches out to 185 members of the congregation. It listens to 125. At the end, the congregation celebrates in worship and hears from the team about what it heard and what God did.
Imagine what God could do: the new and strengthened relationships, the renewed sense of belonging and community, the new energy and direction, the healing, the new leaders, not to mention the sense of accomplishment!
I want this for Zion. Some people will never come back. But I don’t spend much worry on that. I’m much more curious: Who wants this for Zion too?
Thanks be to God.