By MARVIN GUIER
Each Saturday the Wichita Falls Times Record News has an exceptional religion section. It occupies almost two full pages of the newspaper.
On the first page is typically a feature article by the religion editor describing a local project or program and the difference it is making in people’s lives. Also on that page are usually two theological opinion articles, one by a staff writer and one by an area pastor.
The second page is the church page. The top half consists of a paragraph about each of several area churches, while the bottom half includes paid advertisements from churches, usually showing a picture of the pastor and listing worship times.
What strikes me about this arrangement in our local paper is that it illustrates a couple of things about the current religious landscape. First, while Wichita Falls is probably more “churched” than many larger cities, many in our community do not link spiritual interests and needs with local churches.
I do not think that this is the intent of our local paper, but I would venture to guess that some readers read the first page but not the second, while others turn immediately to the church news on the second page and bypass the first.
The second thing that is striking to me is the content of the church news. I suspect that it has something to do with the first observation. This “news” is obviously gleaned from local church newsletters and consists essentially of meeting notices. The ABC group will meet at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday, the XYZ group will go to a local restaurant for lunch Wednesday, the Finance Committee will meet at 7:00 p.m. Thursday, the choir will practice at 9:00 a.m. Sunday, and there will be a covered dish luncheon after church next week.
My experience, using the language of management guru Edwards Deming, is that in many of our churches we tend to talk about and focus on the “input” (our resources) and the “throughput” (the activities we do with our resources) rather than the “output” (the outcome or the difference it makes in people’s lives).
Our activities and meetings are good and necessary, but they are not ends in themselves.
The outcome we seek is to make disciples of Jesus Christ who will work with us to transform the world.
I have experienced this difference at its extreme when talking with congregations that are declining precipitously.
In those situations, it has often been difficult to see beyond “saving our church” to what God is calling us to do to further Christ’s mission of making disciples to transform the world, which may or may not involve our church as an institution and/or our current facility.
As we enter Lent this year, what if we changed our conversations from being about our resources and our activities to the difference Christ is making in the lives of individuals and the world in which we live?
What if we moved from talking about us to focusing on what God is doing in the lives of others and our world? What if we changed our conversations from “church news” to focusing on Christ?