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Conversation with a Neighbor

On my way to the office one day this week I saw a neighbor walking with his wife. I stopped to say “hello” and our conversation got around to church. He shared some concerns he had about his church and I said to him that the problems he was describing were common, much the same everywhere and similar to ones that we face. My neighbor’s church is a United Methodist congregation and all of the so called “Mainline Churches” are facing the same issues. If there is one thing I have learned in over 40 years of being a pastor it is that most the issues we face are “global” or “cultural”, external to what we do or don’t do within our own congregation. Cultural forces are at play.

My neighbor mentioned attendance was down below a 100 and he could remember back in the 1960’s when they were setting up chairs in the aisle with great expectations of growing. The growth went backwards. Unlike our congregation they are smaller, much smaller than they were in the past and unlike our congregation they face a huge mortgage each month putting lots of pressure on them with finances.

During the conversation there were several common experiences that I want to share. One of the issues we shared in common is that attendance is a problem exasperated by sports clubs and youth teams now scheduling events, games and leagues on Sunday morning. It seems like parents increasingly make the value choice that basketball games or soccer practices or football games or swim club or whatever the current sport of the season is takes precedence over church. I’m reminded of the time when our then eight year old daughter Beth was in a select Cross Country program and had lots of meets on Sunday morning. I asked her if she knew what that meant and she said “yeah, I’m going to be missing a lot of church”. I told her “no, it meant she was going to miss a lot of meets”. I can’t make the choice for our parents but if sports takes precedence over church I think we cheat our children out of the best for something of much less value. It’s a poor bargain when we give our kids sports over faith, teaching them value choices they will make the rest of their lives. And this is coming from someone who loves sports, has participated in sports all his life and found much to love in sports. But, when all is said and done, I know what it means when sports comes into conflict with church – it means my children are going to be in church.

What’s your choice? It’s your call; but, just remember – It’s your children’s hearts and souls.