Lately I've been thinking about a different question: What should churches should say more often?
Here are five of them.
1. "Why Are We Here?"
Many of us grew up in a world where nobody had to ask why the church existed. It existed because there were so many people who wanted to attend church! Respectable people attended church. Church was the glue that held the community together. It's where our spiritual needs were met. It was an extension of the family. It's where people found belonging. It's where children learned right from wrong.
No more. Most people don't believe there is any connection between belonging to a church and being a good person. And spirituality has become more of an individual rather than a communal pursuit.
People are no longer willing to belong to something simply because it's what they've always done. It's not enough to just show up. They need to see it as worthwhile. They want to know it's making a difference.
For these reasons, churches absolutely need to ask "Why are we here? What difference does it make that we are here? What difference would it make if we weren't here?" We can no longer say "Everybody knows what a church is for."
Churches need to be intentional about asking "Why are we here?"
2. "Let's try that."
Have you ever made a suggestion at a meeting, and someone says "Oh, we tried that in 1974 and it didn't work." And that's the end of it?
Churches are famously risk averse. The fact is, though, that failure is an essential ingredient in growth. Children would never learn to walk or talk if they weren't willing to fail, over and over again. I recently heard that "FAIL" means "First Attempt In Learning."
There are two reasons we might avoid experimenting. It will cost money. And people will be upset.
Experiments don't have to cost a lot. It costs nothing to experiment with a new way of welcoming people. Or to discover what's going on in your neighborhood. Or to tell the story of your church.
And, if you connect your experiments to your mission and purpose, people might still be upset, but you'll be able to justify your experiment.
Experiments don't need to be permanent. Even if they fail, you'll have learned something and the church will be better for it.
Churches need to cultivate an experimental mindset -- to try things, evaluate them, learn from them, and if they don't work, try something else.
3. "I don't believe I know you."
A friend of mine told me that, a few years ago, she felt a need to return to church after many years away. One Sunday she went to the local United Church. "The service was nice," she said, "but nobody talked to me." She went back several more Sundays. Nobody talked to her. Her mother-in-law came to visit at Easter time and they went to church together. Nobody talked to them. "So I just never went back."
Sometimes church people say, "I don't want to introduce myself to someone and have them say 'I've been coming to this church for five years.' I'd be embarrassed."
We need to get over this fear. It takes a lot of courage for someone to step into a new church where most people know one another. It's better to make a mistake than to have someone come to our church and be ignored.
Next time you see someone you don't recognize, take the risk of introducing yourself. As Martin Luther famously said, "Sin boldly!"
4. "Thank You"
People like to be appreciated. When they do give something, they want to someone to notice.
It's simple and basic. But many churches are not very good at thanking people. The most they do is send out a generic "Thank you for your contribution" note with the annual income tax receipt.
Sometimes we avoid saying thank you in case we miss someone. We need to get over that fear. We should spread gratitude as widely as we can, not by avoiding it in case we leave someone out.
It's not just about acknowledging individuals, though, it's also about creating a culture of gratitude in which we value people for who they are as well as what they do. It's about communicating on an ongoing basis that we are thankful that people are part of the community.
We should cultivate gratitude as an antidote to the carping, criticizing mindset that can easily take hold.
Being a Christian means being thankful. We need to say "Thank you" as often and in as many ways as possible.
5. "Let's pray about that."
The church is more than a human organization. It's the Body of Christ. Churches exist because God has called them into existence and sustains them with the Holy Spirit. We are branches connected to the vine. Prayer binds us together, opens us to the Spirit, keeps us connected to the source of our life.
Churches should not only be communities of planning and action, but communities of prayer.
And that means more than asking the minister to lead a short devotional at the beginning of the Board meeting. One of the most disempowering things we have done is to remove prayer from the people and hand it over to the "professionals."
Churches face enormous and, in some cases, agonizing challenges. We do not have the resources to sustain ourselves. We need to rely on prayer -- prayer practiced by as many people, on as many occasions, and in as many different ways as we can imagine.
Those are five things I can think of that churches should say more often. Can you think of others?