What's Tony Thinking

Saying Thank You and Churches Renewing


This post has two themes. One is the power of saying “thank you.” The other is that renewal and vitality is possible in mainline congregations.

This morning I got the most lovely thank you note from a lay leader of a congregation in the midwest with which I worked four or five years ago.

There was no particular reason that this man, Fred, needed to remember or write to me. But he did. And his note certainly brightened my day.

Here is that note in part:

“Hello Tony,

“I am not sure you remember me but I was involved in several leadership sessions you offered as we were seeking a new pastor and strategic direction. I became the chair of the congregation two years ago and wanted to mention several developments inspired by your guidance.

“We called a gifted Christ centered Pastor. He is an inspiring leader who has brought new life and vitality to our congregation.

“We adopted and proclaimed a statement of inclusion – reframing our House of Worship For All People in its 21st Century Context.

“We called a new Associate Pastor focused on Children, Family and Youth Ministries

“We created a new staff position – Director of Engagement / Membership Development

“We welcomed 20 new members and their families this year so far

“Giving has reached all time records

“Your books and leadership inspired me to take a fresh look at what it means to be a church in the 21st century – more importantly it inspired me to seek the Living Christ in the 21st century – an open, inclusive, welcoming Christ – we are non-denominational, Christ centered and inclusive – welcoming all – it feels like a new church !!!!”

A note like that will keep you going for days.

So here’s the pitch: send someone a thank you note to let them know that they made a difference in your life. It’s a good thing to do.

Now to the second theme. Mainline or liberal Protestant churches can experience growth, life and vitality.

Why is this important? Because so many churches and clergy seem to have come to conclusion that their decline, even demise, are inevitable.

When I started in ministry and began to suggest that the established mainline churches had some serious challenges to face if we were to be relevant in a changing culture, I mostly heard denial. Some version of, “We’re a great church. What are you talking about?”

Denial persisted throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Then it flipped. Increasingly, I found that mainline congregations now haunted by a sense of hopelessness. Somewhere about 2010, many seemed to flip from denial to despair.

Both — denial and despair — seem to me unhelpful and inaccurate.

Many have argued that only conservative churches can enjoy vitality and growth. I think that’s nonsense.

It does seem to me that for any church to thrive it has to have a fairly clear and compelling sense of purpose. That is, it needs to be able to answer the “why are we here?” question in bold, spirited and convincing ways.

And many such churches need to develop what I call “an outward orientation,” that is caring about people who aren’t apart of the congregation but who are in some way seeking God, seeking grace, seeking a faith community.

I’m convinced there are many such people out there. But too often churches, even those concerned about social justice, are pretty inwardly directed, focused mostly on their own members.

I would put an exclamation point on this by referring to recent David Brooks column that I found quite moving, “A Nation of Weavers.”

Here’s an excerpt from that column:

“We’re living with the excesses of 60 years of hyperindividualism. There’s a lot of emphasis in our culture on personal freedom, self-interest, self-expression, the idea that life is an individual journey toward personal fulfillment. You do you. But Weavers share an ethos that puts relationship over self. We are born into relationships, and the measure of our life is in the quality of our relationships. We precedes me.”

Brooks gets that at some level the real problem in our society is isolation and a very tattered fabric of community.

Churches are, in my view, the front lines of overcoming isolation and fear, of connecting people to others and to the living God.

So, send someone a thank you note this week, and if you are part of a church that wonders if it matters or has a future, take heart!

And thank you for being one of my readers!



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