New Ministry Ideas Needed
Congratulations! We, within the Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), are reaching another of our initial goals. You may remember our opening discussions with our congregations concerning the dilemmas of small church ministries: One of the chief shortfalls of ministry in smaller congregations is that the majority, if not all, of the available ministry dollars goes into the pastoral ministry package, leaving congregations struggling to develop, or afford, ministry beyond their walls. “Ministry dollars” is what is left after all the bills associated with the church building have been paid. We knew initially that PLUM congregations would have a similar problem, but we were able to see with hope that, as our base grew, we would be able to reach a point where ministry dollars would be freed up from the pastoral ministry package and moved over into an outreach budget line that would enable us to reach beyond our doors. With the welcoming of our 2 newest congregations, Messiah Lutheran Church in Munhall and Zion Lutheran Church in Coraopolis, we are reaching that point where outreach ministry can be funded from dollars that have already been budgeted for pastoral ministry. The PLUM Board, at its July 2013 meeting, authorized our individual congregations to reduce their monthly PLUM Pastoral Ministry payment on average by $400.00. (Our tendency might be to see this as a windfall savings and just turn this into covering general expenses which will place your congregation on the slippery slope to the demise that many of our congregations were on prior to our cooperative efforts within PLUM.) Instead, we would encourage each congregation to establish an Outreach Ministry Budget Line and make the $400.00 available to Outreach Ministry Projects. And, believe it or not, that is the easy part. Here is where each of you, our members, come into play.
For most of our lives, and literally decades, our churches have been moving towards living in survival mode as the “norm”. “Churchdom”, in general, and the mainline churches specifically, have been on a decline since the mid-1960’s. Most of our buildings are indicators of that change in momentum. Look at the cornerstones on the additions or renovations on our buildings. We have circled our wagons so tight and for so long that we lost sight of our mission and our calling. I see evidence in all of our communities that people are hungry to experience Christ’s freeing grace. I am sure that we have all witnessed new growing congregations - you know, like the one just down the block or around the corner from where your church has been struggling for years. They may be a new store-front start-up ministry or they may have purchased that old vacant mainline congregation that, in its heyday, like ours, had been a vibrant hub of activity (and in many ways our challenger and rival.) These new startups are very active with a good cross-section of people from all ages coming and going through their doors, especially on Sunday mornings. We may remember the days when our church used to be something like that and had activities happening many nights of the week (Ladies circle meetings, youth group, men’s group, dart ball, Scouts, Bible Studies, Luther League, work projects, community outreach and activities, dinners, etc., etc.). So what happened? All of this took money and effort and as the money dried up it was too much effort.
It is in this new and exciting world that we now find ourselves. Decades ago (and for most of us this is before our time), we, as Lutherans, were the most forward-thinking evangelists, seeing potential in almost every area of life. We built nursing homes, schools, hospitals, camps, churches and saw ministry possibilities everywhere at home and abroad. Even today, when a disaster hits, the Red Cross and Salvation Army show up for a while - but it is the Lutheran relief agencies that are there from the beginning to the end. Did you know that there are still Lutheran mission trips scheduled to New Orleans helping the hurricane Katrina victims? It is with this evangelical potential that we are asking all the members of our PLUM congregations to generate ideas of how they might see their congregations reach out to their local communities and world beyond their individual walls. For instance, imagine what would happen if we sent 2 people from each of our 9 PLUM churches to a workshop on evangelism, or youth work, or stewardship, or Christian education, or, or, and we had 18 people from our PLUM congregations come back ready to support each other in encouraging us, (“who would then see them as the experts whom we would faithfully follow”; Huh, and you thought it would be easy.) the members, to being made “new”. Or better yet, what might happen to the small churches in our synod, if once a quarter we pooled our outreach money, (9 congregations X $400.00 = $3,600.00), and brought speakers in to help our Synod’s churches develop their individual ministries? Or hire someone to canvas our community and do a Needs Assessment, or hire a youth worker for your community or hire a part-time Parish nurse?
I/we look forward to seeing your ideas. Please take a moment and jot them down with as much detail as possible and include your name and congregation, along with your contact information, and place them in the offering plate or send them to your church office. To be sure, we will not be able to do everything or, at least not all, at once, but as we share the ideas between our congregations, another church might be able to seize your idea and run with it. Think about it. What happens if something really works well in one of our 9 congregations? We all could benefit from the experience.
And this is just the beginning. It has always been my experience that when we work together in Christ all things are possible.
May we always, knowing the blessings of God, be willing to be a blessing to others.
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sheraden, 3102 Sherwood Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15204 412-331-0600