Deciding on a Mission for Trinity Lutheran, Park Forest
Over this last month, we have begun to talk more openly about our future at Trinity Lutheran Church in Park Forest. During the worship services on May 6th and May 20th, we took time to begin to work towards deciding whether we have an outward-focused, future-focused, specific mission at Trinity. Anyone present was allowed to contribute their ideas, feelings, and thoughts regarding this conversation. I welcome conversation with you at any time should new ideas come to you.
I spoke about how our future ministry is limited if we do not turn outward towards our community, make an affirmative commitment to Park Forest, or decide together whether we are called somewhere else at this point in the life of Trinity’s ministry. The old model of church growth was trying, or rather hoping, that people would come to Trinity, join the life of our church, and give financially and of their talents. This is not a realistic path to the future, and even if it were, we would still be in need of affirmatively deciding how God is calling us beyond our walls at this point in our ministry.
I spoke of how mission is not an internally-focused, reactive way to proceed, but a future-focused, outward-focused, and more specific plan of proceeding together to realize God’s beloved community in this world. Old models of church growth looked at people as commodities, to replace members who had died or moved, who (we assume) would adopt our ways and learn to be like we are. I will say it again: very few people who are not yet here will want to come simply to keep our doors open. The only workable future for Trinity is to begin forming ties outside of our current congregation.
You spoke about how these are conversations that we need to have, and how it may be challenging to figure this mission out. I sense that our congregation is open to the conversation. We heard that nearly 90% of the children in the Park Forest school district live at or under the poverty level. That we are and have been a community of educators. That we need direction. That our buildings will need substantial work in years to come, even if they are currently serving us well outside of the accessibility issues.
We’re in a great place to talk about our future, now when we can, but not because we have no other choice. My hope and trust is that a new phase of the conversation will help bring more voices into the mix. After a very good conversation at the May Council meeting, we have made the decision to go forward with small-group discussions, hosted at people’s homes. We’re going to be figuring out a program of discussion, who can host (please feel free to volunteer!), and when to schedule these conversations beginning later in June. I will continue to keep our attention focused on the future, in the direction of what mission is (outward-focused, future-focused, and specific), and away from what it is not (“getting people in,” “attracting younger people”).
In addition to the conversations at Trinity, I will speak with our Synod leadership to determine exactly what our options might be from their standpoint. I want to encourage you as well to begin to identify possible conversation partners to help us in our conversations to a place where we can all agree on a mission to which all members and friends of Trinity, as well as many beyond our walls, will want to help us achieve. Once we have a better idea of what that mission will be, it will become easier to make more connections as a result of knowing what kinds of conversations we want and need to have.
This effort will be creative, enlivening, and dare I say, fun. It will not necessarily be smooth or easy. But when you call on the Holy Spirit, as we did at Pentecost, as we do each Sunday and every day in our own prayer lives, the Holy Spirit comes, and along with her there comes change. We will learn how to learn from the Spirit of all Truth, who speaks from God to us in our own time and place. I have seen the Spirit work in this way before, and I am excited to think that we will soon all be witnessing a new movement of the Spirit in our own congregation.
This effort may also not “bring in” new members, but if it brings us out as a congregation to help others, even on a small, brief scale, it will have been a success. We have a wise Council and many other helpful voices with us already. We will meet new people and have new conversations that will open up possibilities for us that none of us have thought about. I think that we still have some ministry to do here at Trinity, and even if it may be limited in time and scope, it will be truly serving our neighbors in the call that comes to us from our Lord, who walks with us each step of the way.
May God bless you every day!