I just wrote my annual report for this Sunday’s annual meeting on the program side of ministry. We are now in the strongest position, consolidating the most gains—inwardly and outwardly—since I became your pastor. It feels good to say that, but we can’t take anything for granted. We still have a long way to go, a great distance to cover, to become the church God wants us to be.
Just as we can be too rosy or optimistic in assessing this, we can also be too grim or ungrateful.
Our new member classes become more regular and populous. But compared to what? Well, the mainline churches are in a nosedive losing members, that’s what. Any growth at all means many people are working very hard and caring a great deal. And that would be the likes of you.
We have a fabulous shiny new Darien House Tour/After Party in early June that’s generating a lot of excitement already and promises to generously underwrite the work of Person-to-Person. Big deal, say some. Church fellowship events are a dime a dozen. But do you recall last summer when it became clear our old Antique Show was finished? Some felt like the world was ending, like we could never get close to an event of that scope and impact. Lo and behold, the likes of Karalesa Difabio, Heather Raker, Judith Sinche and a very dynamic committee stepped forward.
We celebrated a 6% increase in giving for our 2016 budget, you’ll recall. Some demur, saying, that was about matching gifts or our household giving units are barely up. I say, search Fairfield County for another UCC church with a 6% increase. You won’t find it. That church doesn’t exist. Clearly, we wish pledge units had increased commensurately, but one miracle at a time, please.
Our many finance people grasp how vital context is to assessing the performance of a portfolio. I mean, if we earned a 14% gain on investments during the mid-90’s, that is a ho-hum average. If we were earning that same 14% in 2009, that financial planner would be hailed as a genius. What we need is a Lipper Average for our portfolio of ministry for a useful sense of perspective.
Actually, I have something like that. It’s called the 2014 General Social Survey, funded by the National Science Foundation. It’s the most accurate reading of religion in America in a long time
More and more Americans prefer no religion. When asked their religious preference, a full 25% of the land says “none”. In the 1990’s this contingent was in the single digits. Today it equals the number of Roman Catholics in America, 25% and growing fast. Ouch.
Americans don’t attend church like we used to. The number of us who never darken the doorway of a church is at a new high. More than a third of us (34%) never attend worship other than the occasional wedding or funeral. That’s up 3% over a couple years.
More and more Americans claim to never pray. Forget about religion and church, the number who never pray, anywhere or anytime, rose from 10% to 15% from 2004-2014.
I invite you to celebrate our gains at First Congregational, receiving them as blessings from God rather than dismissing them as “not quite good enough” or “should have been more.” How goes the saying? It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness. We’ve enough lit candles, held aloft, promising new hope for a new start, than any bright and shiny Christmas Eve service.