Dear Church Family, I hope to see you this weekend as we continue our Lenten journey, "The Places that Matter: A Journey with Jesus through Easter." This weekend we will travel to the pool of Bethzatha in John 5:1-9. We'll be exploring Jesus' profound question, "Do you want to be healed?" Our Lead Team met Thursday, February 21 for its monthly, day-long meeting. The Lead Team consists of several staff members and lay leaders including myself, Leslie Hotzfeld, Kaye Harvey, Mack Strange, Jeff Wilson, Travis Garner, Shannon Garrett, Carol Bumbalough, Lucille Nabors, Susan Graham and Neal Hinson, facilitated by SLI coach, Craig Robertson. Click here to read highlights of the meeting. Since arriving at BUMC, one of the things I'm most grateful for is the large number of new members who have joined our church family. I'm also aware that at least some members in every congregation have ambiguous feelings about making evangelism a major priority. In fact, a few months ago a long time member asked me, "Why does our church make such a big deal out of reaching new people? Sometimes it feels like the current members don't matter as much as reaching new members." That's a fair and important question, and I'd like to respond to it with the following four comments. First, our current members do matter-a lot. We are the "body of Christ" and every member of the body, including all our current members, are a crucial part of that body.
Second, the Gospel commands us to reach out to people without Christ or without a community of faith. Jesus once said, "I came to seek and to save the lost." He told parables about reaching people, including a story about a shepherd who left ninety-nine secure sheep in order to find one lost sheep. Reaching lost people for Christ and church is at the center of God's heart. It's the Gospel mandate. In his last words on earth, Jesus gave the Great Commission to "Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations." The church is the only institution in the world that exists primary for those who are not yet members. Jesus calls every church to be more outward focused than they are inward focused. Third, the future of the church depends on constantly reaching new people. Large churches like BUMC lose 10% of their worshipping congregation every year! They move, or die, or change churches, or become inactive for a hundred different reasons. Although we must continually work hard to keep people connected, the nationwide statistics are clear. Large membership churches lose an equivalent of 10% of their worship attendance annually. For us, that means we lose about 250 people a year. So, if we don't continually reach large numbers of new people, we have no future. The reason the United Methodist Church in America has declined for the past forty years is because every year our denomination loses more people than we gain. Every denomination in America is now in that same predicament. If BUMC (or any church) is going to have a long-term viable future, we must prioritize reaching new people. Finally, as Jesus once said, "the harvest is plentiful." The Tennessean recently ran a story about the growing number of people in Middle Tennessee who are "unplugged" from a local church. The percentages of unplugged people go from a high in Cheatham County of 67% to a low in Williamson County of 38%. At first glance, that looks like a fairly good number for our community. That means that 62% of the people in our county hold membership in a local church. However, that is a misleading number. For example, about 30% of the members at BUMC are inactive. They have had no activity at our church for at least one year-not even attending at Christmas or Easter. This dismal reality is not unique to BUMC. Most churches have similar or even worse statistics. Although inactive people are counted as holding official membership in a church, for all practical purposes, they are unchurched. So in reality, depending on the actual number of inactive members, 50% to 60% of people in Williamson County are not connected to a local congregation in any
meaningful way. Scripture is very clear-these people need Christ and a community of faith. One of our primary jobs is to reach out to them. And one of the best ways for that to happen is for our members to constantly invite and welcome their family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to our congregation. When I was a kid, my dad was an Air Force pilot. As a result, we moved all the time. When we drove off from our old military base to a new one, my mom always led my brother and sister and me in the singing of an old song. The words go like this: "Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold." At BUMC, we are called by God to make new friends while at the same time keeping our old friends. May God help us to do both of these sacred tasks well! Finally, it was good to receive Christine, Ava Lynn, Ella and Sophie Botko as new members. Welcome to our church family. In Christ's Love and Service,