I think it came as a surprise to no one that attendance was down a bit this past Sunday. Some folks (the Bergs included) left town to escape the mad rush of August race traffic. Some folks just didn’t leave the house.
I had been warned that would happen, but it’s still a little unsettling to see our worship spaces so empty.
What unsettles me more, though, is that I find low attendance on Sunday morning unsettling.
Sure, it’s our primary means of grace during the week. It’s the big event that draws us all together, but it’s not what defines us, and that’s something fundamental to my theology that I try to proclaim.
What defines us as a fruitful church isn’t our worship. What defines us as a fruitful church is what our worship and our faith inspire us to do.
Looking at my calendar, I’m a lot less unsettled than I am looking out over the empty sanctuary.
Hearing stories of lives transformed and blessed, I’m a lot less unsettled than I am hearing the paucity of voices singing our old songs on Sunday morning.
Seeing the excitement in each others’ eyes as we gather to do the missional work of the Church during the week, I’m a lot less unsettled than I am when a couple of you nod off during the sermon (yup, I saw that).
Formal worship together is only one part of what demonstrates our fruitfulness. Lots of churches gather on Sunday mornings, but they have nothing whatsoever happening either together or individually that bears fruit for God’s Kin-dom. Jesus says that “those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned” (John 15:6b). That’s a process we’re seeing today. God is using the outcast of the Church, the anathematized, the ostracized, the nones and the dones to exercise judgment on fruitless churches and nominal Christians.
I thank God that First, Bristol, is a church that is actively flowering and growing plump, juicy fruit for God’s kin-dom. I thank God for our folk who give of their gifts and their time to support our missional work. I thank God for our folk who put their hands to work to build God’s children up. I thank God for our folk who go out into our community to seek out and encourage God’s children who have been pushed into the shadows and into the margins of society.
You are the fruit of the family of God, breaking heavenly glory into a creation that humanity has spent millennia destroying.
You are what gives me hope. You are what gives me joy.
Folks, if you’re not one of those saints busying your hands with the mission of Christ, and especially if you’re busy bemoaning all those empty seats around you on a Sunday morning, it’s about time to wake up and do something about it. You’re actively starving yourself of God’s vitality. Stop choking your own vine and let God’s Spirit flow wildly through you, out of control, plumping up those dried fruits of yours. And don’t be selfish with them, but let your neighbor pick them. They’ll grow back; I promise. That’s what God’s fruit does. The more it’s harvested, the more will grow back.
Don’t stress and worry about the empty seats and the low coffers. God will take care of those if we take the opportunity God is giving us to go bear fruit in the world.
God has great things in store for us. God has great things in store for Bristol. God is just waiting for us to open ourselves to the Spirit. God is going to pour power through us in ways that will amaze us.
People are going to notice. That’s not why we should do it, but it’s bound to happen. And they’ll get on board, too. And more people will bear fruit. And more of God’s glory will break through. And as relationships form and lives are healed and transformed, the family of God will gradually come together, and the Kin-dom of God will become a glorious reality.
Nope. I’m not unsettled about attendance. I’m excited about letting God’s Spirit loose.
It’s going to be fantastic!