In the Mission Study that Summit undertook to prepare for a new pastor, membership growth was listed as both a top goal and the biggest challenge facing the congregation in the years ahead. In leadership retreats and congregational surveys, membership growth was seen as a "must" to ensure financial stability, develop programs for children and youth, and to reach out to the community. The report noted the decline in membership over the last century, the plateau in the last 25 years (better than many peer churches, which have seen declines!) and the hope that this could be reversed in the years ahead.
There's no denying the numbers and the facts: we need more people to ensure financial stability if we're to care for our building and develop programs at this corner of Westview and Greene. However, there's also no denying the fact that few people will (or should) join a church to care for the building and develop programs! People will join the church if they hear the good news and are drawn the by Spirit - a joint human and divine effort known as evangelism. Church growth and increased pledging may be happy consequences of evangelism, but - strictly speaking - membership growth is not the church's mission. The church's mission is to share the good news of God's love in Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, evangelism has a bad name among some of us, much of it deserved. At Session last month we shared our associations with the word and aggressive classmates, threatening sermons and disrespect for other faiths immediately came to mind. But when we recalled positive experiences of evangelism - where we had been on the receiving end of the good news - examples came just as quickly: from classmates who talked about their faith or invited us to worship, to people who offered to pray for us, to Christians who gave a warm welcome when we walked into church, to older neighbors who taught us about Jesus and loved us as children. We are all at Summit because at some point we were "evangelized."
At Session we've begun a year-long process of discussion, study and planning on evangelism. We'll be seeking ways to share the gospel that are true to our understanding of God and neighbor. We'll be talking about it in on committees, and inviting the congregation into the conversation. We'll seek to share the good news wider and farther -- and then see where the Spirit leads us. I believe it will be an exciting adventure, that Summit has “what it takes” to evangelize successfully: a life centered in worship and prayer, and – in Paul’s words to the Ephesians (3:7) – a community rooted and grounded in love. There is so much good news to share about Jesus Christ and Summit Presbyterian Church!
Grace and Peace,