The Lay of the Land
Many churches struggle with the question of what percentage of their benevolence giving should be devoted to local mission and what percentage should be devoted to wider church mission through OCWM gifts. The good news is that churches have rediscovered the excitement and joy of mission in their own communities. The bad news is that in some cases this has come at the expense of wider church ministries.
Many churches believe they are living in a time of scarce resources—too few members, too little money, too few volunteer hours. Hard decisions need to be made. There is some truth in this, of course. But if we were to look at things through God’s eyes, might we find another way of seeing and judging?
What forms of local church mission is your congregation involved in? Do you remember to count your regular Sunday worship service in which God is praised, people are welcomed, and God’s saving Word is proclaimed as an important form of local church mission?
What forms of wider church mission is your congregation involved in? How effective a job do you think your church does in communicating to your members the many forms of ministry in Maine, the United States, and the world that they make possible through OCWM giving? List all the ways your church shows, tells, and enacts the stories of “farther” church mission in order to make it real to folks.
Do you think your church suffers from a scarcity of resources? Would you say your church’s mission is limited primarily by a lack of money, a lack of people, or a lack of vision?
Voices from Our Maine Conference Churches
“Our church has a great music ministry. Some folks come for the music, but stay for the welcome.”
“There’s a lot of unorganized ministry that goes on: needs are communicated and folks just respond.”
“There’s a real diversity here—we make room for lots of ideas and thoughts.”
“Our church has trouble breaking through the middle class barrier to reach blue collar people.”
“Our church has been able to use the community Blueberry Festival to build the congregation.”
“We see ourselves as an alternative faith community to the fundamentalist and judgmental churches that surround us.”
“New projects attract new volunteers.”
“Spiritual growth groups are very important. Spiritual direction develops future leaders.”
“There are many groups in Maine we need to reach out to: new emigrants, single parent families, people with disabilities.”
“Our church has a community garden—we donate some of the produce to the food bank and cut flowers to take to shut-ins.”
“Our annual youth mission trip is a really important part of who we are.”
“We include people from the larger community in our church’s life and mission. They can participate in whatever way they want without feeling pressured to join.”
“We try to provide a clear and public witness as a welcoming, inclusive, and loving church.”
“The church needs to focus on the community, not just its members. The church is not a social club.”
Are there any of the voices of mission listed above that sound like they might be talking about your church? What would you say about your church’s mission if you could add your voice to the list?
How engaged is your congregation in your community? Do you have any sense of how people outside the congregation tend to think of your church?
How proactive is your congregation in reaching out to the unchurched? Or does your church engage in the traditional form of Congregational evangelism: hoping against hope that someone new will walk through the church doors?
Do any of the voices above spark new ideas for you regarding witness and outreach?
Voices from Scripture
Read aloud Isaiah 55: 1-11 and Acts 1: 6-8.
Can churches, as well as individuals, lose sight of the Source of abundant life and end up spending money for that which is not bread, and laboring for that which does not satisfy? How well do you think your church does in this regard? Do you think your church is more attentive to the abundant gifts provided by God or to its frustrations regarding financial and human resources?
In Isaiah God assures us that as surely as rain waters the earth and causes it to bring forth life, just as surely God’s Word will work the life-giving purposes for which it is sent. On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your congregation’s confidence in God?
Jesus tells us that we are to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Another way we might say this is that we are to be Jesus’ witnesses in (insert the name of your own town or city), in the Maine Conference, and throughout the whole wide world. Please note the conjunction that is used in the commission that Jesus gives us: it is “and”, not “or.” Jesus does not offer a choice between local mission and wider mission. We are to be engaged in mission in our own communities and in our near geographical region and in distant places as well.
Maine has a high percentage of unchurched people. In what ways does your church reach out to the unchurched in your community? Are there creative and loving ways to reach out without strong-arming or offending people?
Possible Follow-up to This Study
Use Anthony Robinson’s Transforming Congregational Culture (Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003) as a study book. Contact the Resource Center if you would like a set of discussion questions written by Annette Mott to use with this book.
This Study was written as a result of a 2003 sabbatical project by:
Director of Local Church Resources
Maine Conference, United Church of Christ