Churches aim to move from maintenance to mission
Speaker emphasizes relationships, role of the Holy SpiritBy Tim Huber Mennonite Weekly Review
MOUNDRIDGE, Kan. — In a small town with multiple Mennonite churches, leaders from three congregations have gathered for monthly meetings, questioning how to connect with new residents as their churches diminish in spite of a stable or growing community.
They extended the invitation to other area churches. On Feb. 11 in West Zion Mennonite Church’s basement, 145 representatives from 16 churches in Western District and South Central conferences of Mennonite Church USA heard input on “Maintenance to Missional: Looking Back So We Can Move Forward.”
The presenter was Conrad Kanagy, an Elizabethtown (Pa.) College sociology professor and pastor at Elizabethtown Mennonite Church, who has conducted surveys of Mennonites both in the United States and around the world.
Kanagy’s MC USA findings reveal a denomination aging as it leaks roughly 2 percent of its membership annually. In part due to a diminishing birthrate, he said, current membership stands somewhere between 103,000 and 104,000 — down from 130,329 in the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church in 1989.
“If you depend on biology for attendance, this trajectory is a death sentence,” he said.
Many congregations can get caught up in maintenance, neglecting outreach activities like missions. Kanagy said maintenance is important to every aspect of life, from children, to homes, to health and even vehicles. But bad maintenance focuses on the wrong things and rejects the Holy Spirit’s innovation and creativity.
“Maintenance and mission are not enemies of one another; they are not mutually exclusive,” he said. “… This is on the heart of God that we do these things together.”
The key to melding the two is based on relationships. If relationships within a church are broken, that can mirror a world in conflict, which isn’t attractive to newcomers.
“I deeply believe the role of the church is relational,” he said. “… This is not about programs. This is not about resources. This is primarily about connecting with God’s heart.”
Kanagy spoke of research by Mennonite missiologist Alan Kreider about the Roman emperor Constantine’s introduction of Christendom about 300 years after Christ and that era’s similarities with contemporary Anabaptism. By making everyone within his realm Christian, Constantine professionalized the clergy, in essence removing them from the mission field.
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