One of the questions I am asked as we begin Tapestry is how will we measure success? There are some fairly common ways we measure “success” in churches:
- number of people at a given worship service/event
- amount of offerings
- how many visitors/new members are there
- number of baptisms/confirmations
- how well executed a service is
- is the service under an hour (for we Lutherans!)
- did things go off without a hitch
- how did the choir/music sound
- balance sheet/financial statement
- how many members are there compared to the “good ol’ days”
All of these are measurements that seem valid in some ways, but as a mission start, and probably as someone who is pretty optimistic and maybe even naive in what it takes to run a church, I might redefine “success” for us.
For a time I was pretty focused on, and even worried about, how many people came to worship on a given Sunday. But then I had this experience when I was at the Mission Developers Conference for the ELCA in Los Angeles in February.
We were staying at a fancy hotel near the airport. We ate delicious food and luscious desserts. What we didn’t have was Diet Coke. And some of you will know what I mean, but I needed my Diet Coke. So the first day I went across the street to Burger King to get my fix, and there I met James. James left his shopping cart piled with things outside the door along with his dog Charlie. We talked some and I left.
The next day I returned, and James was sitting with OJ, an Ethiopian gentleman, and we talked some, I told them I was a pastor, we talked some more and I left.
The next day I returned and I sat with James and OJ for awhile. James talked about how capitalism has destroyed humanity. He talked about the dogma of the Catholic tradition in which he had been raised and how he didn’t want to hear those stories. He started to cry when I asked him what it was he wanted to hear. No one had ever asked him that before.
OJ told us about being in the Ethiopian Air Force with his best friend and the hardest thing was not that his friend had been killed in combat, but that he had to go and tell his best friend’s wife and family. The tears streamed down his face. The vodka bottle was emptied.
I told them I would pray for them when I returned to Minnesota and I asked them to pray for me. I held James’s hands and reminded him that God chose him in his baptism and that even when we aren’t faithful to God, God is always faithful to us. And James reminded me that we see Jesus in each other.
And then as I left, I met Paul, who had been watching us during this conversation. And he told me I had a beautiful heart and I stumbled out an embarrassed thank you and he told me about his faith tradition and we shook hands. And I left. I left transformed. I felt like we had formed a small church right there in Burger King.
It was in large part because of this church-building at Burger King that my focus changed. I remembered these words from Matthew/Mateo 18:20:
“…For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Porque donde dos o tres se reúnen en mi nombre, allí estoy yo en medio de ellos.
So I stopped focusing on how many people there are at a worship service. These are some of the things I think about instead:
- We can feel the Holy Spirit active among us, in worship and in fellowship, and as we begin to listen to our neighbors and share our stories, too.
- We worship with people from different races, ethnicities, and social classes.
- We worship with people from 2 years old to 75+, and all ages lead different parts of our time together.
- We come together from around the United States and the world: people originally from Minneapolis, of course, but from Chicago and New York; from Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela.
- Our music is fabulous! We sing in English and Spanish. In fact, a woman who just became a part of Tapestry is going to help lead us in singing!
- People are beginning to hear and tell about Tapestry. We see how God is active in our community.
- We are building relationships with local organizations like:
- We have people who are happy to be in a new community of faith and they express this in many different ways. Here is how one of our young people expressed how he sees Tapestry:
We are working together to build a community of faith that is rooted in the love of God, woven together in the name of Jesus Christ, and sent by the Holy Spirit to share this love with our community from around the world that is right here with us in our neighborhood.
These are some of the ways I have begun to think about “success.” Peace/Paz