Eeyore would have a field day if he looked at the statistics about the way American churches came through (or failed to emerge from) the pandemic. The depressive donkey could become even more disheartened. One estimate is that roughly 20 million Americans stopped attending church between 2019 and 2021. It is an epochal change in the life of American Christianity.
Plymouth is not immune to this phenomenon. Some of our members have stopped worshiping in person, others have left the church, some are still on hiatus. Each of us has been changed by the pandemic, and our congregation has been changed, too. You see the changes: streaming worship, Zoom meetings, fewer volunteers for boards, reductions in giving, fewer people physically in church on a Sunday.
I think we, as members of this congregation, have a choice about whether we want to see the glass as half full or half empty. Whether we see the breaking open of newness in Christianity as an opportunity or as a threat.
One of the things I’ve learned over the course of three rounds of cancer treatment is a simple reframing. Rather than “I have to have cancer treatment,” I tried thinking of it as “I get to have cancer treatment.” Not everyone has access to great medical care and good insurance, but I have been fortunate that way. It shifts my attitude from self-pity to gratitude.
We have a choice about how we are going to address the challenges of rebuilding that lie ahead of us. We can become despondent and whinge about all the things that we find imperfect. Or we can get off our duffs and start to make things better. The key question for me is “What actions am I taking to build up (or tear down) the body of Christ?” I invite you to contemplate that. It is highly countercultural and flies in the face of our “me-centered” consumerist notion that the church exists just for me and my needs and wants. In a real sense it isn’t about us and what we want…it’s about God and our neighbor.
The church exists for service to God and neighbor, and it literally takes a village to keep our worship running, our building well maintained, our Sunday school and youth groups running, our budget funded, our parishioners visited, and our outreach active.
Here are some reasons I see the glass as half-full:
How about you? What reasons do you have to be hopeful about Plymouth’s future as an outpost of the kingdom of God? I invite you to take out a piece of scratch paper or your journal and make a list of five points of hope. Does this help you see the glass half full?
We can choose to see the glass as half empty, but how much fun and productivity comes from stewing and ruminating and complaining? Eeyore seems to have plenty of company in our nation at this moment; no need to join the sad, old donkey.
Or we can choose to see the glass half full…and aim to fill it to the brim! We can be more than optimistic. We can become part of the movement that Jesus started 2,000 years ago with a handful of ragtag fishermen and women. If they hadn’t seen the glass as half-full, you and I would never have experienced the faith we know and love.
I invite you to join others in our congregation to be part of the change God wants to see in the world. In this new year, there will be plenty of changes. But as the angels keep saying in scripture, “Don’t be afraid!” It takes courage to be optimistic and engaged, and it takes faith. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s do this together!