|Published by Anonymous on Mon, 25 Mar 2019 17:00|
Reading Luke 13: 1-9 The Fig Tree
Growth and 2nd chances! That’s what the parable we have just heard is about.
We have a fig tree that hadn’t produced any fruit for 3 years. The owner said it was wasting space, being non-productive, and then he suggested that something else should be planted there that would bring in a profit. But the gardener asked for one more year, one year of caring for it, digging in good fertilizer, please just let him try. Just one more year…. Give it one more chance?
Sadly we aren’t told what happened the next year.
A couple of weeks ago I was on a training course in Leeds – a follow up course to a 4 day residential course I had to attend last autumn on church growth. And this passage about the fig tree was read at the start of our morning in Leeds. The leader of the day, Robin, said to us – what would your congregation change if you gave them one year to both bring more people into the church, and to grow in their own discipleship.
The media tell us that churches are dying, numbers are going down rapidly, churches are closing. But do you know what – so are pubs, shops, restaurants and so on. Our whole society is changing. Yes, some churches are closing because numbers are way down ; I admit that is happening in some areas. But what doesn’t get reported is that in other places churches are growing. And church growth doesn’t necessarily mean suddenly our church congregation goes up by 100 overnight. If every church in our diocese had one more person joining this year, that would be 656 more people. Growth however, can happen and does happen when the congregation prays about it. When they pray about what to do. Growth however does not always result in more people coming to a Sunday service, we need to think of initiatives for church in a wider context –
Some ideas that have worked in some of my friends churches involve people coming to a mid-week gathering – a Mum’s group meeting in someone’s lounge studying the Bible over a coffee while the children are at school. A men’s breakfast group, who meet monthly in the local pub on a Saturday morning where they discuss topics from a Christian perspective from the news over the last couple of weeks. A mid-week home communion group – like we have here in Bishop Monkton. A knitting group, who meet monthly and while they knit someone reads something out loud from a Christian book, making them think about spiritual matters and where in time it might lead to a Study Group. And so the list goes on…..
However, what is common to all these initiatives that have worked is prayer. Prayer if you like is the equivalent of the engine room of a ship – without it the ship won’t go anywhere. Here in both of our churches I am sure there are many of you who pray during the week for the church and its work. And we pray in our services. But do we ever pray for growth?
So I am going to suggest that we now take up the mantle of prayer for growth. Both growth in our discipleship and growth in numbers. The 4 day course I went on has a programme that churches can undertake locally encouraging growth and gets a church to evaluate what it is doing and where it can do things better or differently and so on. And it may well be that one or both of our churches do this later in the year. But before that happens we need to want to grow and to pray for growth.
There are many hundreds of cartoons on various websites/Facebook etc showing churches interviewing for a new priest. They usually have the new candidate sat at a table being interviewed and the church members say something along the lines of “yes, we do want growth as long as we don’t have to change what we do now”. Or We’ve always done it this way, if its good enough for us it should be good enough for everyone else. And so on. Do they and do we really want growth?
In both of our churches we are beginning to see small signs of growth with a few more young people coming to our All Age/AllTogether services. At Christmas we get lots of families coming – why don’t they come any other time? Is what we are doing not what they want? Or is it that they don’t want a regular commitment – they are busy at weekends – that may be the only time they see their Dad, or Sunday mornings are taken up with sports matches etc. So do we need to do something at a different time? Do we offer to do something in the school at lunchtime or after school? We could send a questionnaire out to our communities and ask them what they would like – but unless we have volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to do anything. How passionate are you about wanting others to come to faith? Are you willing to help? Do you regularly pray asking God to show you where he might want you to help?
After Ascension Day till Pentecost the Church of England has an initiative that its run for a few years now called Thy Kingdom Come and its all about prayer. Our Archbishops and Bishops ask us to organise prayer events – whether its having 24 hrs of prayer, holding a prayer meeting, or putting up prayer stations for those 10 days in our churches for example. Last year we held a prayer meeting in each church – one church there were 4 of us, the other 6. That’s not a huge percentage of our congregations. This year I am thinking about having a Prayer Walk round each of our villages. Praying for our church, our village halls, sports facilities and clubs, and for our schools, in Burton Leonard we would also pray for the shop, for Dementia Forward and Hymas’. For our farms round about. I will find two days when we can do this – it will probably only take about 60-90 minutes. Think and pray about whether you would like to join me on doing this. We shall advertise it in our magazine in May and ask people if they would like a prayer request to let us know before hand.
And here in our churches over the next year I propose that at every service we pray for growth. In our All Age/All Together services I have bought a green candle (green for growth) and this will be lit and the prayer said at the start of each service. At our other 10.30 services we will have the prayer read out at some point during our worship. And, so that you don’t forget – at the end of today’s service you will all be given a card with the prayer on it – put it on your fridge, on the back of your loo door, on the side of your bedside table, in your wallet or purse – wherever you think will prompt you at some point every day to say the prayer. We need to pray for vision for our churches – how we can join in what God is already doing amongst us; for wisdom in our actions and for his help as we all witness to those we meet.
Let’s give ourselves a year to grow our churches, both in numbers and in our own discipleship. Initially through prayer and then through perhaps doing a course together, and holding events we can invite people to. Let’s move forward and see if we can grow as Christian communities in our corporate prayer life, in our discipleship and in numbers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had at least 2 new people in our churches this time next year, who had never been involved in church before.
So as I close, Let’s pray this prayer for growth now – God of mission who alone brings growth to your church, send your Holy Spirit to give vision to our planning, wisdom to our actions and power to our witness. Help our church to grow in numbers, in spiritual commitment to you and in service to our local community, through Jesus Christ our Lord.