And serve each other according to the gift each person has received, as good managers of God's diverse gifts. Whoever speaks should do so as those who speak God's word. Whoever serves should do so from the strength that God furnishes. Do this so that in everything God may be honored through Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 4: 10-11 (CEB)
The season of giving is done. The Magi have come and gone. So, we can once again settle into our routines and “normal” lives. Even the liturgical calendar calls this ordinary time. But that’s not what we are about: ordinary, routine, normal. We are the people of The Way. We are always crossing over to something different, something more. Our faith is one of constant movement and activity. Even when we are in our devotional closets we are actively involved in loving and growing.
A friend once took a study leave to the United Kingdom. While she was there, she learned about how the church dealt with congregations that lacked vitality. The Church of England had a Redundant Churches Division*. This Division had a question they asked each congregation, “Are you redundant?” You see in a place where there are churches every 5 miles and at every crossroads there are a lot of churches and as any institution would, they wanted to spend their resources on things that were making a difference.
What they meant by this question is, “Do you have a unique thing, ministry, program, opportunity you offer that is different from what the next church down the roads offers?” In an effort to control costs and spend funds wisely they wanted to know which congregations had something to offer that others did not. Where there was uniqueness or where traditional ministries were going well they were willing to fund, but where nothing special was happening, nothing of quality was being offered, nothing different from the church down the road was going on, they declared that congregation redundant and gave them three years to figure out how they could stop being redundant.
So, I ask you, are you redundant? Does what your church offer just repeat what the church across the square or down the road offers? How are you unique? What sets you apart from all the other churches? I know our area; most towns have more churches then they need and most all of them are offering the same basic ministries and opportunities. What is special about your church? I hate to tell you but if your answer is “We are friendly,” or, “We have the nicest people,” or anything along those lines then you are kidding yourselves. Every church is friendly and has nice people. As a colleague has said, “There isn’t a closed church that wasn’t friendly.” But, if your friendliness goes further, deeper into the area of radical acceptance, hospitality, and inclusion then you might just have something special.
The day where every church offered kids’ Sunday School, a youth program, women’s groups, a choir, Sunday morning worship, a Bible Study and VBS every summer are gone. A few congregations might be able to still be all things for all people, but most do not have the ability to accomplish this. And most people are not interested in a church that does.
The Cascadia District Church Extension Society and I offered Micro-Grants to the congregations of the Cascadia District. I have read your proposals for how you envision employing those grants in mission and ministry to new people. The diversity of these proposals reflects well on your seeking ways to not be redundant. Your future, the future of the church depends upon our not being redundant. There are too many people who need to know that they are loved, that someone cares, that justice matters, that peace isn’t just a word on a Christmas card. People want to know that someone sees the hurt and need and is responding. People don’t need a redundant congregation, they need disciples of Jesus Christ who are working to transform lives and world. So, are you redundant?