In 1994, the ELCA awarded outreach grants to 160 different established ministries across the country, for a total of $2.3 million dollars. We might expect that those communities that received such significant resources became vibrant, healthy congregations.
But here’s the thing. After five years, sixteen of these congregations, or 10%, closed. Across this entire sample, attendance declined by 1,950 people. And through this, we learned one key lesson: Money does not grow the church.
In follow up surveys with each of these 160 communities, we found out something else, something much more hopeful. Each shrinking congregation shared one key factor. All lacked a sense that God was actively using them. Conversely, every growing congregation clearly sensed that God was working actively amongst them, that God was alive and working to bring life through the local church community.
As we continue to develop as a congregation, we cannot expect that monetary resources necessarily lead to growth. It is the work of God in our midst, and our active devotion to that work, that leads to the kind of vibrant community we all so deeply desire.
Of course, this makes sense. We’re not here to grow bank accounts. We’re here to grow disciples, to grow the kingdom of God, as the hands of our God at work in the world. With that in mind, pray this week that God will continue to give us a clear sense of divine mission, that we might grow in grace and peace, justice and mercy.
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