Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | May 30, 2017

Spirit and statistics

So, there they are, having breakfast together in the fellowship hall, worried about the future. Budget. Attendance. Absence of young people.

Talking about statistics.

Nobody believes anymore. Nobody cares anymore.

When do you think Jesus is coming back? Tomorrow, says one. Next week, says another. I don’t know, says a third, I mean he seemed to be leaving for a long time, on the cloud and everything…  It didn’t appear to be a round trip. Do you think he’ll ever really be back?

I don’t know. But here’s what we should do. Let’s sit in this room and worry. Yes, that’ll do it. If we sit here and worry, then all those unchurched people will come in. That’ll be the key to bringing back our youth. Yep. Sit here. Worry. Oh yeah, and pray. Maybe before we die, Jesus will return.

Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how the Pentecost story is told in Acts 2. But it is interesting that after following the guy all over the place, now they are sitting in a room, worried and afraid.

It’s not that different now, is it?

What is happening to and in the church? What do the statistics tell us?

Well, there are lots of different answers to that. A few years ago I attended a conference that had lots of speakers. Every single one spoke to this issue, and every single one had a different answer. All of them—all of them—are certain they are correct. They know why the church is declining. They know how to make the church better. They have the secret.

Some of their prescriptions:

  1. Return to the strongest parts of our tradition. We need to recover what we’ve lost and the right way to do that is to go back. Avoid electronic stuff in worship and social media. Use only traditional music. Preach longer sermons. (Seriously, someone said that—preach longer sermons.)
  2. Throw out tradition. The culture has changed and we need to change along with it. Use electronics and social media to the max. Use only modern music. Preach shorter sermons. Or no sermons at all.

What do we do with all that conflicting advice? The “secret,” if there is one, is always local. It’s not what someone is doing in Atlanta or Calgary. It’s not what someone is doing at one of the megachurches, or at some new house church. It’s what we need to do in every local congregation.

What is that? I have no idea. But here’s what I think. It has something to do with Pentecost.

Let’s go back to those early disciples at Pentecost who don’t know what is going on, and who don’t know what to do next. But they are doing some of the right things. They are together, they are praying and singing, they are thinking and talking.

They are also, I humbly suggest, doing some of the wrong things. They are together, but they are alone, behind closed doors. They are praying and singing—alone, behind closed doors. They are thinking and talking—alone, behind closed doors.

So what happens? The spirit happens. And it is crazy. Alone and behind closed doors, the Spirit enters like a mighty wind. This is not what they are expecting or what they think they need.

It looks as though some of them have flames of fire resting on their heads, and the flames are not extinguished by the wind—they are fanned by the wind. And something—the spirit—makes them run out into the streets. Maybe they are trying to get away from this wild ecstatic experience. Or maybe they can’t help themselves. And they start speaking in tongues—in foreign languages they apparently don’t understand. But other people understand. The Medes and the Parthians. The Cretans and all those others. And they marveled. They marveled that these people are—get this—speaking in a language we understand.

They are speaking in a language we understand.

And that is the story of how the church began. Speaking new languages, the languages of the people outside its doors. The languages of the world at large. Some of those people who heard it went back to their own communities changed by the experience. And they didn’t repeat the flames-of-fire-speaking-in-tongues thing. They did their own thing. The spirit moved differently in different communities because there were different cultures, different needs, different languages, different people.

So how does your congregation get to the right place when nothing seems to be working? I haven’t a clue. But you will start to get a clue when the spirit chases you out into your community to speak the language people understand, to meet them in the streets, to understand that the spirit is out there, not just in here.

Should we be talking statistics? Sure. It’s helpful. But the mission of the church is always to be blown into the spirit’s future. Whatever the statistics show, they don’t show the whole story.

The spirit and the community are the whole story.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2017

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Responses

  1. I really enjoyed this entry. Are you excited about the Horizons curriculum this fall? Some ladies in our church want to jump ship and leave the PC(USA) curriculum, but I’m convinced that Hebrews will be a thrill. What was the take at the ladies at Stoney Point? Was the curriculum well received? Just wondering. Thanks – Tamah Halfacre PS My daughter just finished her Freshman year at Western Kentucky. Kentucky is new to us, and it’s lovely!

    • Thanks so much, Tamah! I hope your daughter enjoys WKU. Such a good school and a lovely campus. I live several hours from there in the Bluegrass region, near Lexington. I got the reviews from the Stony Point group, and the comments were overwhelmingly positive. I really enjoyed writing the study, but confess I am not an objective commentator on my own work–I’d be more critical about it than others would, to be sure! Where are you located? Maybe I’ll bump into you in my PW travels this summer.

  2. So glad you are back posting. I have so missed your words!

  3. […] that,” writes Melissa Bane Sevier, “is the story of how the church began. Speaking new languages, the languages of the people […]


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