In the church, Advent is a season of anticipation. Lots of times this anticipation has a very “cute” feeling. Aww… the baby Jesus is coming. But in my family’s experience, the final weeks of pregnancy weren’t cute (I know you’re not supposed to say that, but my wife Dulce went 39.5 weeks with twins).
I don’t think that Mary and Joseph thought anticipation was cute either. The trip to Bethlehem couldn’t have been easy. When they finally arrived, there was no room anywhere and they ended up in a barn. Can you imagine Mary, with contractions every couple of minutes, going from inn to inn looking for a place to stay?
Research has actually shown that we need a sense of urgency to lead into the future. In Kotter’s 8 stages of change, the first step is to create a sense of urgency. Why did I paint the nursery and buy the car seats and make sure the mattress for crib was still good after Dulce had been pregnant for 8 months? It was finally urgent.
You’re probably reading this and judging me because it took 8 months to get moving. You’re right, I could have been a better husband and father before then. Without any urgency, we rarely give our best.
This is a major threat to our worship. From the 1950s through the 1970s the culture around us sent people to church. If you moved to a new town, you probably would have visited the school and the Methodist church upon arrival. Because people were coming to us in the church, we lost the urgency of God’s mission. We’ve replaced Jesus’ words to “go and make disciples to the ends of the earth” with “wait in your buildings and complain about young families who are too busy to come on Sunday.”
Part of our struggles with urgency are theological. The conservative, evangelical church is also in decline, but this trend is more recent and hasn’t been as fast. Why? That theology has a clear sense of urgency: if we aren’t bringing people to Jesus, they will be eternally separated from God. I wouldn’t condone using fear as motivation; but in a lot of cases these churches are more successful in achieving their mission because it is urgent.
So what can we do as we prepare for worship to recapture a sense of urgency?
Remember that every week is someone’s first week.
My guess is that you talk to your neighbors and friends from outside the church using different emotions and vocabulary. I tend to demonstrate more passion outside the church. In this world of perceived division between the church and outside world, why would we do that?! Expecting a visitor every single week will change the way you talk, plan and lead worship services.
Begin tracking second time visitors.
In 2016 Methodist Churches in Greater New Jersey had over 42,000. If 3% of them would come back our attendance would be increasing instead of decreasing. By a visitor’s 2nd or 3rd time in your church, someone needs to know their name. Do something to keep track of and connect with visitors so that they come back.
Invest in next generation leaders.
We must be actively empowering young people to be a part of ministry in the church. Youth Sunday each year (or even each month) is not enough. Working with students, young adults, and young families to contribute to worship and church ministry may not be easy, but they will make us ask and answer difficult questions. This leads all of us to grow as disciples of Jesus.
Haven’t you seen the news lately?
Our world desperately needs the transforming love of Jesus Christ. We have waited too long to rediscover our sense of urgency. Let’s stop with our “cute” anticipation of Christ’s coming and fill our worship and churches with the urgent mission of Jesus.