Summary: Our call to go in this new direction was not unlike the call of Abraham in our Scripture today. God said, “Go!” Go where? “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing...
Being a Blessing
When I arrived here more than six years ago as Pastor, I met with the congregation in small groups, and asked 3 simple questions: “What do you like about the church? What do you want to keep the same? What do you want to change?” Out of those conversations, it became clear that God had laid on this congregation’s heart to become a multiethnic church. It was prompted by demographic changes post- Katrina on the Westbank and the new people it brought into this church. We didn’t know exactly how to do that or what it would look like, but together we started this journey together. Our call to go in this new direction was not unlike the call of Abraham in our Scripture today.
Abram lived in the town of Ur on the coast of the Persian Gulf. Archaeological digs have discovered that Ur was a highly developed civilization. There was elaborate wealth, skilled craftsmanship, and advanced technology and science. It was a metropolitan city which tells us something about what Abraham had to leave behind. Regardless, he set out by faith for a land about which he knew nothing and which probably offered him little compared to what he had. Abram’s age was not a deterrent in leaving Ur for some unknown land either. He was 75 when he entered the land of Canaan. Think of it. Abram would have been on Social Security for over 10 years. Rather than thinking of a new land and a new life, most of us would have been thinking of rocking chairs and rest homes. So you can well imagine the objections in Abram’s mind when the call of God came. Yet he left Haran, not because it was the easiest thing to do, but because God said, “Go!” Go where? This is the vision God gave: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you.” What’s amazing is that Abraham’s doesn’t question God but instead just goes! Only then God will show him the destination. That’s called faith!
That’s like the story of Gretna UMC starting six years ago. God said “Go!” And that’s just like God! At the heart of God’s name is the word go. Our God is a sending God. The vision was to become a multi ethnic congregation meaning we were to leave who were and what we had known and go into what God wanted us to become. We learned a few weeks ago that our God is a sending God and today we see He sent Abraham as He is sending us but we had no idea what it was going to look like or where we would end up. But we knew we needed to take the first step. So we started a new service called Mosaic, targeting a multi ethnic audience and we re-started a traditional worship service called Traditions. Over the last four years, we have grown from averaging just 6 baptisms and professions of faith a year to an average of 29 baptisms a year the last three years. We’ve grown from 2 outreach ministries to 7 and from a little less than 400 members to almost 500 members. We’ve grown from less than 5% ethnicity to more than 40% ethnicity on Sunday mornings. And God is not done with us yet! We have not arrived. There is still more work to do to fulfill this vision!
But amidst all of this, there is one troubling trend. While our worship attendance grew from 146 when I arrived to an average of 219 people in worship on Sunday mornings in the first three years. The last two years, we have experienced a 5% decline in attendance each year. And the number of first time visitors which should be between 5-10 people a week are only averaging 2-3 people per week. First time visitors are the lifeblood of any church. And if we don’t get more people through the doors, we will not grow as a church and if we don’t grow as a church, it will limit our mission. How do we do that? First is by being a living witness to our oikos, the 10-15 people God has placed closest in your life for you to influence them for Christ, and throughout our communities. We are to live distinct and different lives as ones seeking to follow and live like Jesus and by doing so, we love people, influence them, develop relationships with them and introduce them to the reality that God is in the midst of their lives. If you will, we are to become like a virus who infects with the love of Jesus everything we come into contact with. Second, we are to invite people into the life our church. That means inviting people to worship, to outreach events, to Bible studies, to Men’s and Women’s Ministries, to the Food Bank and any other expressions of the life of this church. In my New Year’s sermon, I told you that we needed to hold a Friend Day where every member of this church invited their friends, relatives, associates, neighbors and their oikos to worship. And we’re going to do that on Sept. 8.