Posted in Stories

Today’s attendance: zero

The first two weeks were great. Five high schoolers came for week one when we tried to smash coconuts. The bible lesson was about Deborah, and Jael who drove a tent spike through the enemy general’s head in the book of Judges. It wasn’t so easy to drive a spike through a coconut, so we simply smashed it with a sladgehammer.

Seven middle and high schoolers came on week two for feats of strength and airing grievances. We talked about Samson and wise vs. foolish choices. The discussion kind of lagged until we talked about the Festivus custom of airing grievances. The room came to life. That they wanted to do. Just lay it all out.

I was stoked for week three. This was going way better than I imagined. I am trying to revive youth bible class at church, which has lay dormant for the past eighteen Covid months. Emails, texts, letters, postcards. And then, they showed up.It was worth the effort. This could be done.

Week three came and I was confident. This would be a great year. There was just one problem. No one showed up. Zip. Zero. Nada. An empty room. Not one student showed up.

OK. Time to stop and think about the current situation. Joint custody means many can only come every other week. Jobs mean some have to work on Sunday mornings. Covid means some will not be feeling well or will be quarantining. Weekends means some will be traveling. Some are spending the night with friends. Others are dancing competitively in far away places.

I believe the empty room was the perfect storm of all of the above. The attendance of one week is no predictor of the next. The fun of one week does not translate into the enthusiasm of the next. The classroom of today says nothing about the future.

The only thing you have is now.

If they are there, in the room, you have a moment to listen, question, teach and pray. If they are not there you have a moment to pray, listen, plan and trust. You are not the only influence in their lives. But by grace, you will be an influence.

So, week four comes. One youth is there. We wait. And we wait. OK, no one else is coming, you can go home. Ten minutes later the text comes, “Was I late, or did you cancel class?” Oh, me of little faith. If I had just waited a few more minutes!

I should know. On mission trips, I learned about island time. The clock is not so important. The people are. Their presence determines the time. It’s not the when, but the who that counts.

Lesson learned. Zero attendance doesn’t mean no one is coming. An empty room doesn’t mean class is cancelled. Wait just a few more moments.

Posted in Grace, Ministry

One of those Sundays

It was one of those Sundays.

  • I lost my focus and then my place, stumbling over words I’ve spoken dozens of times introducing a baptism.
  • The organ got stuck on a note right in the middle of a hymn.
  • The microphones popped and rung throughout the service, with a little feedback tossed in.
  • Most of the kids wouldn’t come up for the children’s sermon.
  • My sermon, though well-prepared and practiced, just didn’t inspire. (I wasn’t even inspired.)

Yeah, it was one of those Sundays.

Of course, every other church gathered for a smooth, inspirational and flawless worship experience. They always do. At least, that’s what they (my heart and soul) tell me.

The reality?

  • A beautiful little girl was baptized and welcomed into the church.
  • A whole bunch of her non-churched family and friends clearly heard the gospel, some for the first time.
  • We all feasted on God’s grace at the Lord’s Supper.
  • We got to meet Zac, Emma and Sophia (Zac is my nephew, a second year seminarian at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN who our church supports.)
  • There is another Sunday on the way. I’ll get another chance. I always get another chance.

That’s grace. And it’s free. So I think I’ll talk them (my heart and soul) into camping out there for a while.

Posted in Ministry

How to survive a lousy Sunday

By a lousy Sunday, I mean a dramatic drop in attendance. This year we’ve been averaging about 275 in worship each Sunday, but this past week, only counted 175 in attendance. Worst turnout since June of 2006. As unsanctified as it sounds, pastors tend to obsess about such things. If we’re not careful, it becomes personal, as if the numbers were a direct reflection of our performance.

Reasons for the anomaly? Plenty to be sure. First of all, it is the middle of the summer. Even I was among those absent, having left town to take the high school youth group to the national youth gathering in New Orleans. There’s always someone sick or tired. Or entertaining guests. Cars that won’t start. Mental health days. Malfunctioning alarm clocks. Hangovers. Perhaps an information leak that the elders were leading the worship service and there wouldn’t be any communion that day.

I guess if I can embrace the ridiculously high attendance figures on Easter Sunday, I should accept the dips, too. An even better idea is to stop counting. Then it wouldn’t be an issue, would it? Until someone asks for an average attendance reports. Or wants to know how many worship folders to print.

Worst worship attendance ever: when all of Jesus’ disciples ran and left him alone. His passion was the highlight of his message and no one showed. But it was still effective. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

From now on, when someone asks me how big our church is, or how many come to worship, I’m going to say, “I’m not sure; how many do you think there are?” I’ll just let someone else worry about it.