There is a core group of members who are just the salt of the earth, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. They show up and do the hard work that needs to be done. When you talk about the 80/20 rule(80% of the work is done by 20% of the people), they are the 20. But I have noticed that this group of folks has felt for some time, even well before we arrived on the scene last summer, that their church is dying and there's not much they can do about it. And it's basically true. The town is dying - young folks grow up and move to where there is more opportunity. For whatever reason, the town has resisted change for decades. I am not sure how the powers that be in town feel now, but in the past, it seems that growth was not something they wanted. The town is right off the interstate, with no exit for 7 miles in one direction, and no exit for 4 miles in the other. At the town's exit, there is one gas station. In the last couple years, an additional and potentially large development has started, but I'm not sure what the timeline is for it, nor what exactly is going to happen there. I've always wondered why there wasn't something else there like fast food or something - it seems like a no-brainer.
In addition to the problem of the town dying, the church itself has been in a state of decline. There have been a lot of pastors in and out of this place in the last decade, and families with children have found that the rock and roll church nearby is a lot more fun for them. I can't really speak to all the different reasons that folks may have left this place, but the end result is that many of the remaining members feel mostly sadness about their beloved church. In fact, I think it's really sadness mixed with anger. Folks have told me that 10 or 15 years ago, this church was the church in town. That the place was crawling with people and activity. I am sure that some of this may be romanticizing the past a bit, but I believe that it was surely a more vibrant place than it's been lately. It makes me think that something significant may have happened, but we don't know what it was. Enough background - now for the good stuff.
I would guess that Sunday morning worship attendance has been averaging in the 60's since we've been here - even before our bus driver started bringing children (see earlier posts about that). Yesterday morning it was in the low 70's, I think, which is pretty good. Last night? Around 105. The place was crazy crowded with children - but they only accounted for about half the number. The music was upbeat and energetic, and while I missed the message - took all those children outside to the playground after all the singing - I heard that it was well received. What else would I expect from this beautiful, magnificent pastor? The one who woke up yesterday with a stomach bug, by the way? It has been so amazing to see my wife become a pastor with authority. Regardless, as proud as I am of her, and as hard as she has worked, and as good as she is, this is not about her or me or our family. God is moving in this place, and I am glad to be around to see it.
We really couldn't have hoped for a better start to the Sunday night adventure. In coming weeks, we will not be providing food (at least not officially - some of these kids come hungry and we'll probably end up doing something about that), and it's hard to tell how attendance will hold up. But we will also have programming for the kids, led by me(yikes). I'm not sure how that's going to go, but I will do my best. I expect that good things are going to happen regardless of my competence or lack thereof. A wise person once told me that "being present is highly underrated." I suppose that's another version of the Woody Allen quote that goes something like, "95% of life is just showing up." And these kids are so very needy of positive attention from grownups, it will be hard for me to screw it up too badly.
And those 20%, salt of the earth types? I'm not sure I've ever seen so much joy on their faces as I did last night. They needed this. Some of them really wanted it to happen and worked hard on it. Some didn't know if they wanted it and worked hard on it. Some may have opposed it, but they either worked hard on it or at least stayed out of the way. It is good to have a clear mission. It helps distract us from the back-biting and silly bickering about the minutiae of church life and calls us to be the church, the body of Christ. Thanks be to God!