We are a really good, really strong, attractive congregation.
The reason we haven't grown, though, is that people entering and people leaving are about equal.
This is not unusual, since in order to change size, the group as a whole has to learn new ways of doing church.
Further, in order to grow, we need to add programs and activities that enable more people to experience spiritual growth and belonging and to develop the leadership for these things (which is why we added the student associate pastor position last year).
However, we are facing a difficult situation that will force us to finally decide if we want to grow or not.
That situation is not primarily about money, but a money issue is driving it -- specifically, the skyrocketing costs of the Conference group insurance program.
That program increased 15% last year and will increase 22% next year, making the health insurance for a full-time pastor almost twice the amount paid by a professional jockey -- and this can be expected to go on until someone figures out how to deal with the insurance crisis -- some years, probably.
If we treat this as a spiritual challenge, we can decide to grow to the next size of congregation, and have more of everything -- people, joy, power, fun (and, oh yeah, money).
On the other hand, if we treat this as a money problem to be solved by careful management, we will find ourselves in a situation that will lead to:
Giving up all pretense of paying our apportionments;
Then, eliminating the associate position (= eating your seed corn);
Struggling to keep the pastor's compensation up;
Rapid turnover in the pastorate over several years (--> nothing getting done);
and resulting DECLINE.
In fact, if we try to handle this situation as a money problem, then in 10-12 years we will shrink to the next size category of church -- and everyone will have white hair.
Staying as we are is not an option; the fixed costs of that are spiralling out of control. We must either go up or go down. There are no guarantees either way, but we have the time to discuss it and decide what we want to be -- and fully intend the consequences of our decision.
And I said, "Those who will not choose a future and embrace it freely will have a future chosen for them which will hold them fast."
And all this is a message of hope, not fear.
* * *
I really don't like to do this sort of thing. I want to preach when I'm preaching -- proclaim the good news. But the reason I'm staying on here at TVUMC is to try to lead these folks where they need to go. I saw this coming over a year ago. And I'm looking ahead to our annual decision-making process now starting up, and I see those people who are preparing to punt on third down. They think they can win by playing defense. If they are to have the option to succeed -- at all -- then I felt I had to change the dynamic of the process, challenge the whole low-risk game, push all my chips into the center of the table and call. Why else does one accumulate all those leadership chips, if not to use them for a time like this?
Well, we'll see. Maybe they'll follow me, maybe they won't. In the end, it's not about me or what makes me comfortable. I'm going to move on someday. But I'd like to leave them stronger than I found them, and up until yesterday, I don't think any of them had a clue what's coming at them.
The next step is to work with the leadership to define a way to rise above the problem -- to surf the wave instead of being bowled over by it. That way, we can talk about Ministry rather than Money.