Posts Tagged ‘Church attendance’

Easter 2012 is in the rear view mirror.  Sunday was an incredible day in the state of New Hampshire.  The reports of places of worship being overflowing has caused all of us to be happy.  In our church, twice as many people attended and most of those people came as invited guests.  It was a grassroots explosion that can only be explained by God’s Spirit softening hearts and giving us all a passion for our friends and family.  I say all of this on the heals of the new Gallup poll that says we are among the least religious state in the country.

While it may be true that going to church on Sunday is not a normal activity here in the Northeast compared to the South or Midwest,  I’ve got to believe that something is changing in people’s hearts.  If this Easter is any indication, we are seeing something of an awakening take place.  Take, for instance, a church in Manchester, NH  that held their Easter service in the Verizon Arena.  Take, for instance, the many churches that added multiple services throughout the state.  And take our own situation where just one year ago we launched a new campus of Grace Capital Church in Laconia…and this Easter over 450 people attended.  In challenging people at our church that One Invite Can Change a Life, over 2200 people gathered in one of five different services.  This is not normal for NH.

But here’s the main thing…what happens to everyone now that Resurrection Sunday is over and it won’t come again for another 12 months?  This is the true test- the power of the gospel and the influence of our story upon others.   I’m hoping that no one will be like the two who walked with Jesus on the road and didn’t even recognize Him…that people won’t remain oblivious to Him working and calling and loving them.  Instead, like the two at the end of the story, their hearts will burn with His grace and they will respond. Because it’s not enough for Jesus to be alive…He wants to be alive inside of us.

God burns in hearts causing eyes to be open.  Everyday.

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It happened to me this past Sunday.  I met a new guy in our church who told me that he and his family had just moved here to New Hampshire from Iowa.  Since my wife is from Nebraska, we talked a little about farms and the Midwest and the Cornhuskers.  Then the big question…how do you like New England?  His answer didn’t surprise me.  “To be honest, the people here are really different.” And he wasn’t just referring to the amount of Dunkin Donuts coffee we drink!

Are we really so different in New England?  After all, people are the same everywhere right?  The same needs, challenges, desires, opportunities and attitudes…right?  Maybe not.  New England is a unique region of the country and if there’s one statistic that can prove that out, it’s in the area of church attendance and how many people identify themselves as Christians.  In fact, a huge percentage of people in New England would fall into the category of non-religious.  Spiritual maybe, but non-religious. 

I was reminded by a wise woman today that the thing that sets our region apart from many other places in the country is that we are still here.  Unlike the pioneers and early-adopters that moved West, our forefathers didn’t budge.  This is as good as it gets.  No need to change.  Maybe that’s why we have such an aging population in places like Vermont and Maine and New Hampshire.  The younger generation is out of here, looking for new opportunity and experience.

Several years ago, I invited a neighbor to church.  His response stunned me, telling me no and asking me not to talk to him about it again.  He was fine.  “All set,” were his exact words.  As a typical New Englander, in his mind I was intruding into places that were private.

I have spoken to friends and others outside of New England that don’t really get it.  They believe that people are people, and New Englanders are no different than Southerners or Left Coasters.  While it is true that we all need Jesus and we all need community, how you go about relating to folks from my neck of the woods is a world apart from how you relate to someone from Dallas (bless your heart) or LA (hey dude). In my opinion the difference requires an investment in the person that cannot be merely casual or temporary.  This costs something that many of us are not willing to spend- our time, our friendship, our trust, and our love.

The neighbor I talked about…well 15 years later, he and his family are a part of our church, they love Jesus and they are serving others.  But first we had to love them and serve them with no strings attached.  Are New Englanders really that different?  What do you think?

-Peter

I’ve always been amazed at how some pastors can seem to manage massive growth in their churches.  We are in New England where mega-churches are more myth than reality.  Often I’ve thought if that has more to do with the post-Christian landscape of the northeast, but lately I’m wondering if it’s more to do with a higher emphasis on community and being real than some of our big city and Bible belt neighbors.

I can’t imagine being a pastor that is unfamiliar with a vast number of the folks who I am called to lead.  I know that some would say that I really have to change and get over the fact that if we want our church to grow into the thousands then I have to look at my role as more of a pastor of leaders or CEO type than a shepherd/teacher.  I just can’t do it.  Yet for some strange reason we have seen our church continue to grow and now are moving into a multi-site model of ministry that keeps our pastors knowing the people who we serve.

Have you ever felt like you have to compromise who you are as a pastor to grow the church?  I like knowing people’s names, although I am not really great at it, especially as we have seen growth.  So should I just face the fact that I can’t know everyone and stop trying?  Instead I encourage the church as a whole to be relationally driven. True, I can’t take everyone out for coffee, but I can some.  Andy Stanley recently said in a message I heard, “do for one what you wish you could do for many.”  To me, that’s the heart of a pastor.

I want to be normal, not supernatural or separated from the people I am called to pastor.  I don’t want to run backstage after the service or be whisked away by bodyguards because I’m so in demand.  Yet, I desperately want to see our church grow with new believers who are becoming followers of Jesus.  Growth is good when it’s not about me.  So maybe I do have to get over my tendency to want to know everyone and just get on with breeding a culture of community that includes my limitations.  Growth will never take the pastor out of who I am.

-Peter