We are starting to finalize the year-end reports from all of our congregations for the year 2011. Those reports take a while, since many local churches are slow to enter them, and then our District Assistants and Conference staff go over the reports to catch typos. So we are getting close to having the final numbers.
One thing becomes clear as I look at our incomplete reports: 2011 was not as strong a year for our churches as 2010. Our total local church income was down in 2011, as it seems the downturn in the economy finally caught up with many churches, so their tithes to the Conference were down about $600,000 from 2010. In spite of that, our giving to missions was up in 2011 - which is a testimony to our generosity even during tough times.
However, our membership and worship attendance figures for 2011 appear to have slipped back about 1%.
One percent may not sound like a lot, and I suppose counting errors may actually change that figure somewhat as we continue to work with the reports. Some people have even said to me, “1% is not enough to really worry about.” But I worry about it, and I care about it. Any decrease in such numbers is a decrease in real people – and people matter to me. I think of the parable Jesus told about the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to go and search for the 1 lost sheep, and I believe that “counting” is a part of our caring. So that 1% matters to me, and I hope it matters to you.
The statistic in our year-end 2011 reports that really troubles me is this one: 51% (609 out of 1,176) of our local churches did not receive even one (1) new person on profession of faith! Not one! Many of those churches that did not receive even one new person are small churches, but I can’t imagine any church so small that it cannot lovingly invite, nurture, and welcome one new disciple into the faith in an entire year. Isn’t the mission and purpose of our church all about making disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world?
So the 1% matters to me, and so does the “1” person who did not get a chance to become a disciple of Jesus in 609 of our churches.
Our theme for the Annual Conference Session this June is “Making Room” – and it will focus upon making room for God in our lives, making room for new people in the life of our churches, and making room for the next generation of leaders. It sounds like our theme is right on target in terms of a HUGE area of need in many of our churches. I invite you to come to Annual Conference and learn about how to make room.
Meanwhile, please prayerfully reflect on this question: Do you believe that God cares about the 1% and the 1? I hope so, because I do.