The Presbytery of Minnesota Valleys boundaries go to the North to Fergus Falls-Crosslake to the Eastern edge Silver Lake and St. Peter and everything in between to the Iowa and South Dakota border. When I started serving our church in Redwood Falls, 20 1/2 years ago, there were over 60 congregations, today there are 50 with a few more contemplating dissolutions. According to the newest stats from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) overall we show a decline in membership in 2021 of 51,584 persons; decline slower than in the recent past. A total of 10 new churches were planted across the entire denomination, while 104 were dissolved.The total number of churches is listed at 8,813, 112 fewer than in 2020.
In the Star Tribune last week there was an article about closed churches buildings being renovated for other uses -houses, breweries, bed and breakfasts. I know that has happened to at least two of our dissolved church buildings in this presbytery.
According to the Gallop poll, membership in houses of worship in USA continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend. U.S. church membership was 73% when Gallup first measured it in 1937 and remained near 70% for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the 21st century.
The decline in church membership is primarily a function of the increasing number of people who express no religious preference, the “none.” Over the past two decades, the percentage of citizens of the USA who do not identify with any religion has grown from 8% in 1998-2000 to 21% over the past three years.
These sorts of statistics can make a person feel depressed, overwhelmed, and defeated. If you regularly attend worship or lead worship, these sorts of stats can make one feel hopeless. This reminded me of the book of Haggai.
Haggai was a prophet, the people of God, the Jews had just returned to their homeland after being in exile in Babylon for generations. Cyrus, the leader Persia was the new power in charge and he said the Jews could return home. It is estimated that Haggai was a prophet from August- December of the year 520 before Christ was born. And here is a bit of trivia for you, According to rabbinic tradition, Haggai along with Zechariah and Malachi were the last of the Hebrew prophets to be heard as it was believed that prophecy in Israel had come to an end. Four hundred years of silence from Zechariah, Malachi and Haggai, then we hear a prophetic voice again in John the Baptist.
Anyway, the prophet Haggai is thought to have been a farmer, someone we can relate to here in Redwood County. The Jews had just returned to their homeland to see it in ruins, thanks to the Babylonians…their homes, their fields and the Temple which Solomon had built in all its glory. The people of God must have felt defeated, hopeless and uncertain of their future as followers of the God most high.
It is Haggai’s calling to offer inspiration to these people. The Jew’s commitment to temple reconstruction has waned. The people have lost their priorities and have focused more on their own homes and personal security than on establishing the center of their faith community. Haggai is calling them to return to the Temple restoration, to return the Temple to its glory.
Essentially Haggai is the cheerleader here; he’s giving a pep talk to help the community of faith understand the importance of the meaning of its major faith symbol, the Temple.
The people are sort of stuck in a “Camelot” moment meaning those feelings of nostalgia of years gone by when seemingly everything was better. You know the feeling, when our church pews and Sunday School classrooms were full when the only thing happening on Sunday morning was in a church building, worship and Sunday School, there was nothing else open, no stores, no sporting events, nothing. The days when we had plenty of volunteers for everything so we could plan many events.
Haggai rallies the community of faith for the task of restoration of the temple precisely because the temple serves a critical function in the community. Communities of faith are important and serve a vital function.
My brother-in-law Paul wrote a blog a few years ago, about the future of the church in response to a Star Tribune series called the “Unchurching of America” (groomed to be newspaper readers). In this particular article, the author talks about “Nones.” These are people who don’t belong to any religion. They don’t believe in God or the church and thus are not connected to a church.
Paul went on to talk about reasons young people, specifically “Nones” don’t attend church, six of them from a book by David Kinnaman called, “Unchristian.” Those critiques of the church are 1) Anti-homosexual; 2) Judgmental; 3) Hypocritical; 4) Old-fashioned; 5) Too involved in politics; 6) Out of touch with reality. I’m sure you and I have heard these critiques of the Church, maybe not this one specifically but certainly these are reasons which make us stop and think.
What are you and I supposed to do with all this information? One thing we can do as a community of faith is to not do those six things, that is a rather simplistic comment. But Paul offers four things which communities of faith can think about from a Pew Research Study they did of people who attend church, asking what they wanted from church. They responded that they attended church 1) to become closer to God; 2) to give their children a moral foundation; 3) to be a better person; 4) to find comfort in times of crisis.
These are four things I can rally around. And hopefully you too. We can be a community of faith here in Redwood Falls where people feel welcome. We can be a community of faith where people find solace and comfort, support and encouragement. We can be a community of faith where children are welcome, loved and taught about God. We can be a community of faith which helps people be the best version of who they are. First Presbyterian Church of Redwood Falls, this is you! This is what we are called to be.
People have asked if we are doing the Christmas Eve Friendship dinner again. Please let me know if you would come to dinner. Also let me know if you would be willing to make a soup or stew, bring a Christmas desert, or donate a meat and cheese tray. Please email me at [email protected] or call me at 640-1369 as soon as possible if you are interested in attending or helping in any way. Thank you! Pastor Scott
This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.—Psalm 118:24
This is the time of year we have set aside to give thanks to God for all of God’s many blessings.
A few weeks ago in church, I talked about doing a gratitude journal. Each day you are to write down three things you are thankful for whether it is small or big. The catch is that you are not to repeat anything that you write. It is a great exercise to see how wonderful our lives really are even if we are going through tough times.
Grab and pen and piece of paper right now.
What are you thankful for?
Being thankful for God the Creator, Jesus the Redeemer and the Holy Spirit the Sustainer is perfect way to begin.
Write down all the relatives that have been loving and supporting to you.
Write down all the friends old and new that have touched your life and made it better.
Write down the names of teachers you have had at church from Sunday School, Release Time, Youth Club, Vacation Bible School, Youth Faith and Action to Confirmation etc. that have helped you grow and learn in your walk with God.
Write down the names of pastors that have ministered to you over the years.
Write down the names of fellow church members that have role modeled how to follow Jesus from any church you have belonged to in your life.
Write down the names of teachers that inspired you from elementary school, middle school, high school, college etc.
Write down the hobbies that you are thankful for that you have participated in the past or present.
Write down the places that you visited in other towns, other states or other countries that you are glad you had a chance to experience.
Write down any gifts or talents that God has given you.
Write down your favorite food that brings you joy.
Write down any television shows or movies that have richly entertained you.
Write down memories you have of the beauty of nature.
Write down a favorite memory from a vacation that you took.
Write down jobs you have been thankful to do.
Write down the names of book that have been meaningful to you.
What if your favorite room in your home?
What is your favorite Bible passage?
What hymns or songs bring you joy?
Write down about time you have seen a prayer being answered.
Write all of these blessings down and lift them up to God and prayer. Let gratitude fill your heart, mind and soul. Then go out and be blessing to someone in your neighborhood, your community, your surroundings and share Christ’s love by doing a random act of kindness.
May you have a truly joyous Thanksgiving and may your gratitude over flow.