Praying for Bear Creek to Grow!

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I don’t know if you know this, but I pray every day that Bear Creek UMC will grow!  Just like a seed that is planted in fertile ground, I believe that churches are meant to thrive, and a big portion of that thriving is growing in numbers. As such, I am elated about what is happening at Bear Creek UMC.  In the past 2 months we have had first time guests in our midst every Sunday, and many of them are coming back for a second visit and a third! If I know anything about church growth, that means one thing…some of you are out there doing one thing well: inviting!  Hooray for you!

I’ve done quite a bit of reading and studying about church growth, and one of the things I’ve learned is that in order for a church to grow there are some internal barriers that need to come down.  Giving in to growth means sacrificing some things that are often very dear to our hearts.

When I lived in Mitchell, SD our church started to grow and one Monday morning, one of my dear friends, a faithful member of that church for 25 years, was sitting in front of my office.  His hands were wringing. His face was contorted.  Everything about him said one thing, “I’m upset.”   As I greeted him, my mind raced wondering what was bothering him.  I wondered about health concerns, or what I had said in my sermon that might have upset him. We chatted for 5 or 10 minutes and finally I couldn’t take it any longer so I just looked him in the eye and said: “Doug, what’s going on?”

He looked at me and then said, almost apologizing, “Well, I know this is going to seem silly.  I’m on the evangelism committee for goodness sake. But, you know Mamie and I are very faithful about our attendance in church.  I mean, Pastor Brook, we don’t miss a Sunday!  And we come to both services on Easter.  I usher one, and at the other we just worship.  And we love it.  We have found a place here.  And you know where we sit, right?”  “Oh yes. 3rd pew on the left.”   “Yes, that’s our seat…or was.” He paused here, hesitating, as if to signal that this was the big “it” he wanted to reveal. But then he said it: “This Sunday we came to sit down in our pew, and there was someone already sitting in it!”  

I waited for a punch line.  A laugh.  A “isn’t that wonderful!”  But there wasn’t any of that.  Just an incredible look of disbelief on Doug’s face.  “You may think this is funny, pastor Brook, but Mamie and I are pretty upset about this.  We had to sit in the second row on the other side!  It just felt weird!”

And so, Doug and I sat down and had quite a conversation about all the ways we have to sacrifice to be a growing church.  And almost all of them centered around “place.”   To grow we must make room for others, and that means opening our nice closed, comfortable group to include more.  And that means giving up our pew occasionally. Doug and I talked and talked and then prayed.  And when he left, I wondered how they would respond.

That next Sunday, I got up into the pulpit and looked over at the 3rd pew on the left.  Their spot.  They weren’t there.  Could they have been that upset?  But then I glanced over at in the 2nd pew and there they were, a bit uncomfortable, but smiling, even waving as if to say, “we’re over here now!”    On the way out, they winked at me and said, “if giving up our pews is what it takes for God to grow this church, we’re willing pastor Brook.   Besides, for some reason I can hear better over there!”  

When I first came to the PNW, Rich Lang, our DS, invited me to a workshop for all the first-time pastors.  We sat at round tables, and as we gathered the facilitator took a moment to remind us that we were pastors, and that as such, we tended to want to “fill the room” with our words.   She looked at us and said, “Don’t! My dear friends, leave enough room at your tables for others to speak, and for God to be present.”

For some reason, those words, “leave enough room for others” hit me.   That’s what becoming a growing church is all about…it’s about giving up our place for others.   It’s about backing off a bit, so that someone else can have the stage.   It’s about giving up one of our gifts, so that someone else might be given enough room to share theirs.  It’s about learning to give our ministry away.

Your friend and pastor, learning like youare…how to scoot over and make room for others, Brook  

Tim Schaaf