“Coming Attractions”

June 29, 2014


Robin McGonigle

University Congregational Church

June 29, 2014


“Coming Attractions”

Proverbs 29:18


Helen Keller, probably the most recognized blind person who has ever lived, once said, “What would be worse than being born blind? To have sight without vision.” I am convinced that only a few people work diligently to develop a vision for their lives, their families, and their church.

2 years ago, I made the decision to leave a church and move here.  Several of you have asked if I’m glad I did. “Yes!” A thousand times yes!”  One of the reasons I thought it was time to make a change was because UCC really wanted to grow.

I have bad news and good news.  First, the bad news:

  1.  Every year more than 4,000 churches in the US close their doors.  One recent researcher put the number much higher – between 8,000 and 10,000 churches closing a year.
  2. Every year, 2.7 million church members in the US fall into inactivity.
  3. While church membership declined by 5 million, the US population increased by 24 million.
  4. The US now ranks 3rd following China and India in the number of people who are not professing Christians.
  5. 80% of Americans find more fulfilling things to do on weekends than attend church.
  6. The median church in the US has 75 regular participants in worship on Sunday morning.
  7. Only 6% of the churches in the US are growing.  That means that 94% of congregations are decreasing.

The United States Census Bureau

www.churchleadership.org “Statistics and Reasons for Church Decline”.

Hartford Institute for Religion Research “Fast Facts about American Religion”

www.huffingtonpost.com “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore”

Are you depressed yet?  That’s not really my goal.  I just want you to be aware that we are in a time of great upheaval for congregations.  The statistics show just what kind of pickle we are in.


Today, I’m going to present to you a vision for our church in the future.  This vision has been in process for almost 2 years.  If you will remember when I came 2 years ago, I did not arrive the first day and say, “This is what we are going to do folks.” I have:

* listened,

* observed and participated in the annual events,

* learned about the history of our church,

* and have been careful to garner consensus before making changes.


Now, it is time to begin looking for ways we can grow.  But these ways MUST BE congruent with who we are.  People know the minute they walk into this building if we are trying to be something we aren’t.  And it will turn them away.  So, let’s name the things we probably aren’t going to be:

  1.  We are not going to be a mega church with 1,000 or more members.  Our facility isn’t conducive to that and we value relationships more than numbers.
  2. We are not going to be a church with a rock band playing loudly and a screen with a bouncing ball above the music.  So quit worrying about that.
  3. We are not going to be a church with an overflowing number of children and youth.  We want children and youth, and young families, and we will have programs to meet their needs.  But the reality is that we aren’t going to attract 100’s of 20-somethings.


Instead, what I am proposing are well-researched and proven methods of growing a church that fit UCC’s style and people.  Now it is time for the good news!


Proverbs 29:18 tells us: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but the one who respects the Spirit of God is happy.” The word “vision” is translated in different ways in varying translations, but the Hebrew word means, “vision, oracle, or divine communication.” When we talk about a vision or “divine communication,” the indication is that the object, the vision itself, will be something other than what is within our grasp on our own.

Some of the vision that I am going to lay out will be a stretch.  However, when we work together to be the church, we can be much more than the sum of our individual parts.  This vision is not something we can grasp on our own – there will be a divine spark to ignite us into a growing and vital congregation.

So, here it is ~ the good news and a vision!

  1. Get out of our building and into the community.  Every member involved in a hands-on mission or outreach. 

This is what makes us a church and not some other organization.  Reaching out and becoming involved as a congregation will energize and inspire us as individuals and as a community of faith!

Imagine if some of our boards and committees met at Starbucks or Panera and had a sign at the table that identified our church!

Our hygiene pantry is a perfect start to achieving this goal.  Two weeks ago, they served more than 400 families!  We must continue this ministry and grow some others.

Consider a tutoring program or an adopt-a-grandparent mentoring program.  There is a lot of knowledge among our members.  We have lots of love to share!  Let’s get going on a mentoring or tutoring program to show the community that we care.

A church in Olathe offers free gun locks to the community each time there is an accidental shooting in the area.  It’s not that they are making a political statement for or against guns – they are helping to avoid accidental shootings and they are making themselves relevant to their community.

At last week’s Congregational Café, the team introduced the idea that the Sr. Minister needs to spend much more time in the community meeting new people and letting them know about the church.  Well, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander!

  1. Begin a new worship service in 2015.

     “What?” you say!  “We aren’t filling our sanctuary on Sunday mornings.”  But adding a service doesn’t mean the congregation you have splits up.  It means that you are offering potential members more choices.  If our regular 10:30 Sunday morning service isn’t meeting the needs of our visitors, they can try something different.  By the way, starting a new worship service is in our strategic plan slated for the fall of 2014.

I recently read an article about a growing church calling themselves a “dinner church”.  That sparked my interest!  Church where you eat?  I’m all for that!  Once a week, a group of 12-30 people come to the church and cook together.  Once the meal is prepared, they eat together and have a lesson.  Over time, the group grows closer and new people join.  When the attendance reaches 30 people, they split into 2 dinner churches on different nights.  Could we start a dinner church?  Would that be our new style for worship?

I’m not convinced what style and format our new worship service will be.  I’ll be exploring some options with you in the next few months.  Another note here: today, 25% of Americans say that their primary form of spiritual nourishment is meeting with a small group of 20 or less people each week.  If we get out into the community, and we offer a new worship experience, we have a chance of reaching people whose spiritual needs are met by small and intimate gatherings.

  1. Organize and plan worship experiences that touch the heart and the mind.

Today, people of all ages are processing knowledge more through the heart – through the experience – rather than the head.  Today, you get to the head through the heart instead of getting to the heart through the head.  That’s one of the big shifts that has occurred in our lifetimes.  People are now reached best through pictures.  Consider it this way: in a previous generation, silent movies sparked the imagination and were all the rage.  But a new generation found that movies with sound tracks and visual effects were more gratifying.  Today, the release of a new silent movie without the use of modern technology would be a huge flop.

Successful and effective schools no longer depend on teacher’s lecturing while students sit in neat rows paying rapt attention to their every word in order to receive an education.

And most of us prefer a modern TV with quality sound and picture.  Does that mean that I’m going to go out and buy a bring screen and a projector that we use every week?  Absolutely not.  However, we need to recognize that music, art, and gospel all go hand-in-hand.  The message is not longer just the sermon… it is a seamless combination of music, arts, and Word.  People younger than 60 do not want to know about God; they want to experience God.  This means that worship has to connect with and touch their spirits.

  1. Adding more small group / mentoring options.

People are less likely to visit a worship service at a new church than they were a few years ago.  Instead, most visitors come to a less threatening program or event at the church before visiting worship.  That means we need as many “entry points” to UCC as possible.

Classes such as our Monday night “Zealot” class, trips like the Guild took to Atchison, to a book study class, events we have that foster community and grow spirits are vital to our future.  That’s why I was disappointed in the participation we had for the summer arts camp.  In order to grow, we all have to show up and participate in events so that visitors who attend get to know us.

Today, we are competing with a plethora of activities people can choose from.  Typically, people only accept invitations to events that they perceive will add value to their lives.  And the truth is that a lot of people believe they get more value out of staying in bed than they would from church.  On the other hand, these same folks find value and invest their time in hanging out with friends, going to concerts, attending workshops on improving their lives or their golf game, and taking their children to endless soccer, t-ball, gymnastics and swimming practices.  If we are going to be serious about reaching people outside of our doors, we need to host something “valuable enough” that people are willing to say “Yes!” to an invitation.

Here’s an example: one church is located next door to the town’s single-screen theater.  They have a good relationship with the theater’s manager and they find out about upcoming movies in advance.  So the church offers a Family Friendly Dinner Date Night a couple of times a year and they encourage their members to invite people to it.  The date night includes a sit down dinner at the church, the cost of admission to the movie, and childcare for the kids.  The childcare isn’t just babysitting – it is over the top fun!  Just before the movie lets out, the church sets out a family friendly bedtime snack to encourage people to linger and mingle.  And here’s the genius part: on the way out the door, the family receives an invitation to a special three-week series on a topic targeted to this demographic.

The more entry points we have, the better!

  1. Wednesday night programming.

And here’s our kick-off program for this fall!  On Wednesday evenings in September and October, we will have a couple of food trucks in our parking lot.  They will offer a variety of foods (some of which are even healthy options) and everyone will be invited to attend.  After we have pigged out on food, we will invite folks into the building to share in a brief time of worship, and then have classes for all ages.  This will all be concluded by the time choir rehearsal starts… so if you are in the choir, you can still eat and learn before you sing.

This program incorporates all of the elements of what we have learned about church growth.  It’s visible to the community; it is a new entry point for visitors; it offers something applicable and experiential; it meets the spiritual (heart) needs and the mental (head) needs.

So what can you do to help with church growth?  Here it is as simply as I can say it:  Show Up; Be Friendly; Be Open Minded; and Try It Before You Knock It!  And always be on the look-out for ways to include visitors in your conversations.