A few of us had a delightful time gathering for brunch on New Year’s Eve. The conversation turned towards “outreach” and the various ways congregations go about increasing their numerical size.
I describe North Suburban not as a small congregation but as a “portable” congregation. The descriptor portable emphasizes the virtues and strengths of our size – our flexibility. We are not limited by maintaining a building or being tied to one specific location. This could and should be considered an asset rather than a liability. I hope we can continue to explore what our portable size enables us to do rather than be focused on our limitations.
My prayer and hope for North Suburban is that we are about embodying (“incarnating” is the theological term) the freedom dreams of God. I believe the key to that embodiment is not outreach but connection.
Connection is the key to health in the body. When connection breaks down health is endangered. Connection is the key to health in society. Divisions, polarizations, and conflict imperil our corporate health as much as disease imperils our corporal health.
Congregations often fail at outreach because we lack connection. We are unhealthy as individuals, as congregations, as members of society, as human members of a planet of creatures to whom we are tied as intimately as the air we breath and the food we eat.
I don’t fault the evangelistic intentions of congregations focused on outreach. If the world is to be changed then it will take those who are living into an alternative future to invite others to join us. But that is a different intention than recruiting members to a religious social club or donors to another philanthropic cause.
We need deeper connection to the freedom dreams of God. We need deeper connection to our own inner lives – the journey of our souls. We need deeper connection to our neighbors and to those with whom we live and work each day. We need deeper connection to the pain of the world all around us. We need to live in ways that recognize and respect our deep (though too often neglected) connection to the literal ground under our feet, the air in our lungs, the food in our bellies.
When we are deeply connected in this way we will have created pathways by which we can join with others and others can join with us in embodying God’s freedom dreams. We will as we studied during Advent “make a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3)
Perhaps the most important message from Jesus about “outreach” is not Matthew 28 but Matthew 6. Jesus asks (in my own rough paraphrase) who can add an inch to their height, or a year to their life (or a dozen to their church membership) by thought and worry? “First of all, live for God’s freedom dreams. You won’t have a thing to worry about. Everything you need will be given you.” (Matthew 6:33).
Let’s do it. Happy New Year.