I’m always tempted to remark that I’m doing pretty well on the first of those, but of course what we mean by growing wider is nothing to do with waistlines and everything to do with the breadth of our reach in our communities.
Hearing a call to grow younger can sometimes be heard as a sidelining of those who are older, but notice it’s younger not just young. Numerical growth can, of course, come through engaging even better with the population of older people around us, but the long term sustainability of the local church requires that it is engaging with people of all ages and refreshing itself with new, younger members. That’s not just some managerial strategy, it’s a theological necessity. The vision of God’s Kingdom is one where all of humanity is gathered together. The Kingdom is bigger than the church, but the church is called to be a foretaste or sign of the Kingdom, a place where all generations find a home.
Growing deeper reflects the call to deepening Christian discipleship; to spiritual growth; to doing what it takes to become more like Christ.
This call is challenging when we have declining, ageing congregations and rapidly diminishing financial resources. Just keeping our buildings and our services going and meeting our obligations to contribute to the cost of ministry is a profound enough challenge in itself. But without seeking to grow in each of these dimensions, we will not have the capacity to face those seemingly more immediate challenges. I wish I had the magic solution to offer, but I don’t. It will take all of us putting our hearts and minds together to address them, and will also take sacrifice. We may well need to be prepared to let go of long cherished ways of being church together in order that we can embrace those who don’t understand or appreciate what we do now.
That’s bigger than just changing our services. In fact doing that is unlikely to reach a constituency of people who are utterly disconnected from church. I doubt that there are lots of people out there thinking 'if only that church was more trendy, I could go and worship there!' Those that do want that are already getting it in other churches. Instead we need to start much further back. The first task is sharing our faith with people in generous friendship and seeing who among those with whom we share wants to go deeper. Even before that, we may need to evangelise ourselves: to re-engage with the roots of our faith and find again the God who loves us and longs for us to grow; to discover what God is doing around us, and to join in.
I pray we may find the courage, heart and love for the task.