It is easy to get depressed when you look at the statistics for the church in modern western society.
A long time ago, when I was studying economics I had a big textbook on the subject by Paul Samuelson – it was like the Bible for economists in those days. In the preface, he had a quote which has remained with me, “There are lies, damn lies and then there are statistics!” The implication is that statistics can say pretty much anything. They seldom, however, reach to the heart of the matter.
Nearly every day I receive an enquiry about our “collaborating communities strategic plan” – which is the name which our Strategic Plan 2018-2021 has acquired.
The baited hook in our Strategic Plan, is the offer of financial assistance for people to do what the church is supposed to be doing.
However, most enquiries are not about the financial assistance, but about how communities can grow through connecting with other like-minded communities. I am presently aware of five congregation groupings who are forming to talk about connecting with their respective communities. In addition, one school has directly expressed an interest, others are keen to be involved.
But perhaps the most exciting was a visit today from the Uniting Church Adult Fellowship (UCAF) team. You will know their work through their Newslink magazine and the visit of Margaret Pedlar, the National Chairperson to our Synod last year.
This group who seek to encourage and connect the many small groups in our congregations have recently conducted a survey of what is happening in the life of Uniting Church congregations in Western Australia.
And there is a lot going on!
Though only 42 congregations responded, a total of 2131 people are involved in 180 groups throughout these congregations. That’s roughly half of our total Sunday morning attendance!
There are 29 Bible Study groups, 25 Arts and Crafts groups, 17 children’s groups and umpteen breakfast groups – it seems that we love breakfast in the Uniting Church.
There are a significant number of Messy Church groups and lots of Men’s and Women’s groups. One congregation in a regional centre has 50 men in their men’s group and another 50 women in their women’s fellowship. And they serve a free lunch to over 65 people each week.
Many of these groups reach out well beyond the membership of the congregation. Small congregations in rural towns are the best examples of membership, of their various groups sometimes more than triple the size of the congregation.
The town of Gingin, for example, has a population of 743 people but they have up to 50 attending Messy Church.
The church in Mukinbudin has only one group, but members are involved in six other groups in the town, ranging from the Men’s Shed to preparing the local newspaper.
It’s all about the people and the connections which people have with people.
The church grows not from upbeat programs, but from people connecting with people who share the good news about Jesus.
The heart of the matter is that the church is alive and well and living in fellowship groups all over Western Australia.
Have you connected yet?
Rev David de Kock