31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
May 23, 2021, Pentecost
Acts 2:1-18, 41-47
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Most churches dream of having 3,000 members. Can you imagine having 3,000 new members? All joining in one day? Does it sound like a dream or a nightmare?
I think lots of churches and church leaders dream of making new members. Some of those churches are not necessarily looking for new members though, because new people change things. New people have new ideas. They sometimes feel called to new ministries or feel nurtured by new forms of worship, prayer, and music.
New members, new people, naturally make the church new. And some churches and church leaders are not all that interested in change.
Instead, what those churches and church leaders are really saying when they form growth committees and community engagement teams, is that they want new money to support their church facility and staff. They want new sources of time and energy to keep supporting the committees and programs they have grown too tired to keep doing. Some churches only dream of having 3,000 new people so those people can help them keep doing church the same old way.
Born into the Church, raised in the Church, I have fond, fond memories of crowded Christmas Eve worship services and Rally Day picnics, of packing 40 teenagers on the church bus for retreat weekends, and singing with the youth choir as we put on annual Biblical musicals for the church-wide Harvest dinner where my home church would rent out the high school Auditorium and cafeteria and families would contribute apple crisp for dessert.
This way of being Church, this way of doing Church nurtured my relationship with God through Jesus Christ, nurtured my calling, nurtured me heart, mind, and soul.
I’ll be bold and confess that a part of me would love to have the ability, the resources, to go back to recreate those special events for my child, your children, and all of the other children of our community. So yes, I confess that sometimes I’d like 3,000 new members to recapture those bygone moments of Christian community and nurture.
And I also acknowledge that I know God is not calling me, you, and the Church backward into the past.
God is calling us to do a new thing. God is calling us to journey forward, to see visions and dream dreams. And not just some of us, all of us, sons and daughters, men and women and everyone in between, young and old, mature and not quite there yet.
God is pouring out God’s Spirit upon us that we made be made new in Jesus Christ and embrace the new God is doing in our lives and in the world.
So with sadness, I let go of one church dream- that of new church members to sustain the church of my childhood, youth, and even early ministry years, and I embrace a new church dream – of nurturing new Christian disciples. New Christian disciples to love God, love their neighbor, and change the world.
This new church dream is less about getting people in to fill pews and committees and more about getting people out to offer a listening ear and a helping hand. This new church dream focuses less on joining and more on sharing the light and love of Jesus Christ. In this church dream, building God’s kingdom is primary and building the church is secondary.
Two thousand years ago, during the Pentecost Harvest festival, the disciples were gathered together, wondering what to do now that the resurrected Jesus had ascended to heaven and was no longer physically with them. They could have gone looking for another rabbi, a new teacher to lead them, trying to recapture the community they had had for the last three years. They didn’t though. They waited – discernment often takes patience and waiting – and they were blessed with the Holy Spirit. They were powerfully filled with the Holy Spirit – not so they could rebuild their Jesus community. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, enabled to speak in new languages so they could share about God’s deeds of power, so they could testify to how Jesus had changed their lives.
On that Pentecost day, the disciples, the students, became apostles, messengers as they shared about Jesus’ love and made, not church members, but disciples, people whose lives became forever connected to the vine.
Every January, Pat, our amazing office admin, is asked by the wider United Church of Christ to prepare a report. How many members does FCC Bristol have? What is our average worship attendance? How many children, youth, adults participate in faith formation (what we used to call church school)?
It’s a lot of numbers however they all assume a church’s vitality is only measured by how many people enter this building. That has never been the way of Jesus Christ, because we aren’t called to make members. We are called to fish for people, to root people in the vine that is Jesus Christ, to make disciples.
So what if instead of dreaming of 3,000 new members, instead, we dreamed of:
3,000 people who were told that God loves them
3,000 people who received food when they were hungry
or were prayed for when in need
3,000 pieces of litter picked up at next year’s community clean up
$3,000 raised for new church starts and new church ministries through the Strengthen the Church offering.
3,000 vegetables from the First Fruits Garden shared with our local feeding partners
Even 3,000 meals served in the Dining Room to build community and connection
What if we dreamed of 3,000 lives transformed by Christ’s love?
It might seem like an impossible dream however the disciples would have thought so too. When the day began, the disciples didn’t have any ideas as to their purpose, as to what to do next, and then God blessed them. God powerfully filled them with the Holy Spirit, and God enabled the disciples to speak to people in their own languages. Not in the disciples’ language, but in a way that others could hear about God’s deeds of power. In a way that connected and invited others to know God’s love. In a new way that nurtured disciples.
This is my dream for the church, to dream bold dreams and vision innovative visions all so we can be and do Church in new ways, in new ways that continue to faithfully share the good news of Jesus Christ.
My dream is more lives transformed by a relationship with the God of love we know through Jesus Christ. This is my new dream for the Church. What is yours?