Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Dread Pastor Roberts

Over the last month, I've instituted something new in both the email newsletter and the worship bulletin of my little church. That new thing is fairly simple: a worship headcount. It's a pretty straightforward thing, really, and is a way of illustrating a bit of data that is easy to miss in the gracious intimacy of our little fellowship.

That bit o' empirical reality is this: after six years of a group of diligent and hardworking folks working together to revitalize a dying suburban church, we're not at the point where we're self sustaining. Yes, membership has grown. Worship attendance has doubled. Our giving has nearly tripled. But after all that time, we're still not a self-supporting congregation. We're still significantly reliant on the small endowment of the church, and that endowment has taking a brutal beating over the last year.

Unless something shifts dramatically in the near term future and the trend-lines run in a different direction, we'll run smack up against an inescapable reality: we can't support the institutional structures of our church. Our building isn't quite the money pit it was a few years ago, thanks to some major repair projects and maintenance. But it's too big for us. Our staffing level--and by that I mean me--is too costly for the community to maintain without the endowment, even if my salary is 10% less than Presbytery minimum and slightly below what the average Metro bus driver makes.

If we really stretched it out, we could go for a few more years. We could spend down to zero and then walk away. But that's just not an acceptable option. We've got to be aware of the realities that we face, and we've got to respond to them mindfully.

I really, really like my church. The fellowship is great, and the praise team rocks, and our Bible studies are both fun and places of spiritual growth. But I feel increasingly like I'm compelled to become the Dread Pastor Roberts, who at the end of every Sunday says to his congregation,

"Wonderful worship! I really felt the Spirit moving here today! That comment in Bible study was really insightful! Keep up the good work, and I'll most likely kill you in the morning."

I understand that can be quite the motivator.