“For in this hope we were saved…”(Romans 8:24)
It is a question found in many churches today. It is a question which is found in large congregations, medium congregations, and small congregations alike. It is a question which has been asked at the synodical level and the congregational level. “Can we sustain our church into the future?”
A few years ago, I read a report that predicted that the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, our church body, would not exist twenty years in the future. The reasons for such a dire prediction were shrinking membership and shrinking offerings. How can you have a church body without people and gifts to keep it running?
In 2018, Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church had an average attendance of 32. Our attendance numbers are trending downward over the years. In 2018, Hope was able to pay all its bills but we do not have a great surplus of funds in the bank. Our offerings too are on a downward trend over the years. Will Hope be able to pay its bills, maintain its building, and support full time ministry into the future? What do we need in order to be sustainable?
Before we answer that question, let’s review our purpose as a congregation. “Hope” is such a fitting name for a congregation. We have the message of hope; the message of a sure confidence in the forgiveness of sins and ultimate deliverance unto eternal life through Jesus Christ. That’s what St. Paul was writing about in Romans 8:24. “For in this hope we were saved.”
Hope exists that you and your neighbor may receive this salvation. In the preached Word, in the waters of Holy Baptism, and in the Supper of our Lord this salvation is given to the people of our community. In Christ Jesus, your eternity is secure. Our congregation truly offers the most important thing for any community!
Our work then is the most necessary work. Forgiveness and salvation is the greatest need that we and our neighbor have. Therefore, our desire to be sustainable for the future as a congregation is not sustainability for sustainability’s sake, but rather sustainability for the sake of the salvation of souls!
So, let’s go back to the question, “what do we need in order to be sustainable?” For any congregation to continue, it needs people. In other words, Hope needs you! We have what we need. We have God’s Word and Sacraments to impart salvation. We have people to carry out that work and support it!
What does Hope need? Hope needs you to do what you are. That may be poor grammar but it is good theology. You see, we the members of Hope are a new creation in Christ Jesus. We are the body of Christ. So live as God has made you to be.
Hope needs financial support. What kind of support? In 2018 our expenses ($75,632.04) exceeded our income ($58,822.44) by $16,809.60. So what does Hope need in 2019? Hope needs the kind of support that Scripture directs believers who are a new creation in Christ to give. Hope needs generous, cheerful, firstfruit giving. The generous and cheerful giving of our best to God in our offerings does and will provide what we need to pay our bills and maintain a full time ministry!
Hope needs the body of Christ to be the body of Christ. Hope needs its members to come to the Divine Service. There is no “church” without people gathered around God’s Word and Sacraments. In the Service at God’s House you are given what you need. By your attendance at the Service you greatly encourage your fellow congregants. Think of how uplifting it is when the pews are full, the hymns are loud, and there are many tables at the Lord’s Supper! Your attendance is vital to the encouragement of your fellow members, just as it is vital to the life of your faith that you receive God’s gifts regularly.
More people present means more people served. More people present means more opportunities to reach out to our community. More people present means more support of God’s work. More people present means more encouragement for one another! YOU are a vital part of all that!
This new year and into the future, take to heart the words of Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Make it your habit to be at the Divine Service as often as you are physically able. This will provide you with what you need: God’s forgiveness and life in Word and Sacrament. This will provide our congregation with what it needs: support to continue our ministry. This will provide your fellow members with what they need: encouragement.
Dear friends, what does Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church need? We need God’s gifts and He gives them to us each week here at His House. We need the body of Christ to be the body of Christ. We have the hope of salvation. God gives you salvation at His House. You give support to Hope at God’s House. You provide much needed encouragement to one another at God’s House. Come, and be a part of this hope because “in this hope we were saved”!
– Pastor Locklair