Summary: Are we as a congregation ready to open our hearts and minds to the needs of today and tomorrow?
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come. Amen.
Listen for the Word of God in the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 2, Verses 14a and 36 through 41:
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified."
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him." And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
The Title of this Sermon is "Ready, Set, Grow!" That used to be the name of a UCC Program to foster Congregational Vitality. It all started with a poll where people were asked to rate how strongly they agree with the following items:
- This congregation is always ready to try something new
- The current morale of this congregation is high
- This congregation is strongly focused on serving the wider community beyond the congregation
- This congregation makes a real difference in the lives of its members and their families
- Members of the congregation have a sense of excitement about the future
- The members and pastor(s) share a clear vision, goals, or direction for their ministry and mission
- Now, please self-evaluate your congregation on this overall scale
So the overall question is: Are we as a congregation ready to open our hearts and minds to the needs of today and tomorrow?
Both the Orem Community Church and the Provo Community Church proved to be ready to try something new. They hired a guy from a different continent to be their spiritual leader. That’s really new and really brave. The people back then in Jerusalem also had to adjust to a new style of Parish Life. Peter was their new guy in town, a former fisherman from the North and now eager to grow the Church in Israel’s capital. Here and now the mission is to grow both churches individually and together. Peter is a good example for church growth because we heard: "and that day about three thousand persons were added."
So now let’s talk about some obstacles: It won’t happen that way: This day we won’t add three thousand persons. I am sorry. Yet growing is the issue for our church. Growing on two scales: We need to grow spiritually in matters of width and depth, to broaden our faith and to deepen our hope. And we need to grow as a congregation in matters of involvement. Our Church attendance has to go up!
The "Ready, Set, Grow!" Program suggested to use the wisdom of demographics for congregational growth. Here are the numbers: From 2000 through 2006 population in Orem and Provo has increased by 8%. I’m a Theologian not a Mathematician so you will forgive me saying: An increase of one per cent per year. So without doing anything special both church membership and Sunday attendance should go up by one per cent each and every year. "Ready, Set, Grow!" How do we make that happen? Is it all just bad fate? Has the Almighty God forgotten that we are here?
Let’s have a look back at the days of Peter in Jerusalem. He was on a mission. It is seldom God in person who grows his church directly but in most cases he will need people to join his mission. Peter was on such a mission with a strategy for growth as imposed by the risen Christ:
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
The United Church of Christ on the national scale won’t get tired of reminding everybody that we are an inviting church. But as we sit around here this morning we can be as inviting as we can: Our invitation won’t reach out to anybody. Most people out there won’t even know we’re here. Jesus commanded his disciples: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" Go out to the whole wide world and gather people under God’s word. Now hold a minute, you may remain seated until worship is over, but as of tomorrow...