As we continue into 2019 and a potential vision for ministry for this congregation, it is important that we also recognize where we have been. To faithfully work toward a vision, we must know our starting place.
Many have noted that we have experienced some decline in both giving and attendance over the last several years. This is correct, and it is also good to know some of what lies behind this. First, this decline is not unique to our congregation. Giving and attendance continue to decline in churches around the country. Our District and our Annual Conference are exploring ways to support congregations in working through decline in imaginative and important ways. However, this does not mean that we should be unconcerned. On the contrary, let us be authentic and forthright so we can face any challenge.
In terms of attendance, the average number of persons in attendance on Sunday mornings has been in decline since 2013 (with a minor spike in 2014, likely because of the change in Pastors). But even 2013 numbers were well below averages in 2008-2009. It is my opinion that our summer schedule change this past year had a negative affect on our overall worship attendance. However, it is also important to note that our Christmas and Easter attendance were increased in 2018 over 2017.
We must also consider the Sunday morning Worship gathering and its efficacy in leading people to faith-filled experience. In the worship survey from this past summer, participants have a strong sense of God’s presence in worship (78%) and are satisfied with our current worship style (94%). Coupled with this, I have received a number of direct comments about our recent sermon series on reading our sacred texts that worshipers are very happy to enter into this journey.
Indirectly, we have heard a desire for more opportunity to grow in discipleship. In addition to the two groups that meet based on our weekly Sermon Notes (see the weekly email and church website), Pastor Christopher is planning an upcoming study on the book Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman. In addition, look for information on an upcoming study on the book Short Stories by Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine.
Also indirectly, I have heard concern about our community’s continued Project Grace community meal and additional programs. I must acknowledge that I better communicated the community’s concern than the response. I have engaged in regular dialogue with nearby faith and community leaders so that we might regularly share challenges and best practices; we have partnered with Father Joe’s Villages to provide the only entry point for VI-SPDAT (a coordinated assessment database for services) in the Pacific Beach region; we are partnering with even more regional non-profits to provide even more services to help people to prevent and escape homelessness; we specifically host PB Street Guardians, who offer jobs and case management for persons living on the street; I have increased my own community presence including the local PB Town Council. As a result of these and other programs, the number of complaints are dramatically reduced and even some of the most vocal critics have now offered words of thanks and support. Much of this is in large thanks to our SPRC leaders who help us to have the right personnel on site, and specifically Beth Rhodes who coordinates our non-profit partnerships.
In terms of the reduced giving we have experienced, this is largely because we have experienced quite a bit of loss over these last several years. Veritable titans of the church have joined with the saints, and we have had to compensate for their generosity. Even so, we have received new giving commitments and this year achieved a budget that (according to the Finance report on pg. 6 of February’s newsletter) “was less stressful than last year.” This does not mean that we may throw caution to the wind, but instead is the fruit of faithful giving, faithful leadership, and incredible generosity.
As we continue to look forward with hope to a vision for the future ministries of PB UMC, let us do so with gratitude for the foundation upon which this vibrant congregation stands. Let us acknowledge the challenges that stand between where we are and where we see God leading us, so that we may move toward this vision with faithful determination and unyielding grace.