[For the past eleven years, I've written a column that appears in the Community Press newspapers in Clermont County. This piece is the column version of this blog post.]
Four months ago, the lay leadership of Friendship Lutheran Church and I, watched as a combination of alarming trends threatened not just our church's capacity to do ministry, but its very existence.
One factor was complacency. After a twelve year struggle to get into a building, it was only natural for us to take a deep breath when we finally moved into a new facility nearly four years ago. But we seemed to slip into relax mode.
The first result of our complacency was decreasing and sporadic worship attendance.
That, in turn, resulted in lowered and sporadic offerings.
That threatened our ability to do the ministries of community service for which Friendship is probably best known.
It also threatened to make it hard for us to keep up with our church mortgage payments.
It would have been easy for our leaders to wring their hands and do Chicken Little impressions.
But these are people of faith, people who believe that they belong to the God of all creation. They really believe that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). So, our leaders challenged us in four ways.
First, they asked that the congregation daily prayer for the well-being of the church.
They asked that our members make regular worship attendance a priority, cancelling the summer slump.
They challenged members to invite their non-churchgoing friends to activities of the congregation.
Finally, we were asked to increase our giving, considering the tithe, the Biblically-honored practice of giving the first 10% of one's income to God's causes in the world.
We've seen remarkable answers to our prayers. Ever since this focused praying began, we have seen first-time worship visitors every single Sunday, unprecedented in Friendship's history. Many of those folks have returned for second visits.
In addition, our attendance has increased, something churches rarely see in the summer months.
So too has our giving. Offerings in the months of May, June, and July wiped out the operating deficit that accrued in January through April. We still need to be diligent in our giving. But progress has been made.
Why has this happened? In 538 BC, the Babylonian king, Cyrus, allowed God’s people, the Jews, who had been slaves in Babylong for more than forty years, to return to Jerusalem and begin rebuilding the temple. It was an exciting time!
But the returnees soon became discouraged, intimidated by the enormity of the obstacles they faced.
They also were comfortable in their new homes in the Judean homeland.
Complacency and fear caused them to completely stop working on the temple.
This was unacceptable to the prophet Haggai. Prompted by God, he told the governor, the high priest, and the people to take heart, to rely on God, and to get to work rebuilding the temple (Haggai 2:1-9).
Soon, praying and working for God's cause, the temple was rebuilt.
The God Who helped ancient Israel is still in the business of helping those who trust in Him. We've seen that in our congregation.
And how about you in your personal life? Are you fearful or self-satisfied, afraid to tackle the next mountain God asks you to climb? Prayerfully rely on God and then work, knowing that God is with you. And as you pray and work, don't be afraid, knowing that God is with you.
Then, watch what God does!
[Mark Daniels is the pastor of Friendship Lutheran Church.]