From Rev. Thom Belote’s Church Growth Inventory in The Growing Church: Keys to Congregational Vitality [Skinner House Books, 2010]: “The church did not begin the moment a member stepped in the door, and will not cease to exist the moment a member leaves. The church has a past, a present, and a future. When I address my congregation about growth, I say that when you first walked into this church, there was a seat in the sanctuary waiting for you. Before you arrived, somebody made sure that there would be an open seat for a person they hadn’t even met yet. I then say that it is incumbent upon each member of the church to ensure that there will be an open seat for the next person who walks in, and the next person, and the next.”
Another way of saying this is what I have sometimes responded to congregations who were wondering, “Should we grow?”
I remind them of Dag Hammarskjold’s saying, “Each morning we must hold out the chalice of our being to receive, to carry, and give back.” We come to a religious community and we find a welcome there — we receive. For awhile, it’s our turn to carry that community — to give of our time and our resources to sustain the community for ourselves and for others who are there. And then, at some point and due to some circumstance, we move on. It’s our responsibility to assure that our religious community will be there, strong and healthy, for others who will come in the future, just as we did. We receive, carry, and give back.
So what are you doing to prepare a place, to assure an empty seat, to give back, for the person who is seeking what you have found in your religious community? Tell me about it.