Numbers Game

Last week the clergy of the North Texas Conference met for our annual Covenant Renewal Day (I say annual- it was annual a decade ago, but it's been hit and miss with recent bishops). I was glad that our new Bishop, Mike McKee, brought the practice back. He spoke to us about his understanding of the appointive process. This time of year is always an anxious one for pastors, as we know the Cabinet is meeting to begin the process of assigning pastors. He also thanked us in advance for finishing "Check Out," the day we report our numbers to the Annual Conference (membership, worship attendance, monies received and spent, etc.) It's a long, tenuous number crunching that brings few pastors joy. But, Bishop McKee reminded us, each number represents a person who knows Jesus.

In crunching those numbers, I thought of the faces they represent- many new folks, as well as long time ones. Yesterday I went to the annual conference archives to dig up some historical numbers for Oak Lawn, part of a project I am working on that will be produced next week. It's remarkable how consistent our worship attendance, for example, has been. Since 1995 we have floated around the 200 number. I am glad to say that we have consistently grown in numbers the last five years after a wild drop off in 2008- 114. In 2012 the number was 209. That's great growth, but it only brings us back to where we started at in 1995 (211). The big question we need to be asking is this: how can we get that number to 300? 400? 500?

After my tracking in the archives at the conference office, I went downstairs for a meeting of the North Texas Conference Council on Finance and Administration. Think of it as the Conference's Finance Committee. Oak Lawn's Mike Larsen and I are new to it this year. We heard from the Rev Jim Ozier, Director of New Church Development, that the sixteen new congregations the Conference has started have contributed 2000 more people in worship every Sunday across the Conference. That's wonderful news, and we need to be starting new ministries all over North Texas to reach more people. We need to be as creative as possible. Like the guy recently appointed to be chaplain to the Appalachian Trail. Anyone interested in serving as chaplain to the Katy Trail?

Literally every day I am in the office I spend several minutes looking out of my windows. They face East, so I see our parking lots, then out to Turtle Creek, and downtown on the near horizon. I pray for people living in those structures, more of which go up nearly every day. I spent some time studying demographic data around Uptown and found a real need for Christian community: people have little religious connections and feel a very low sense of well being. In other words, right outside of my windows is a mission field yearning for good news.

Jesus said, "The harvest is bigger than you imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest" (Luke 10:2). Then Jesus sent out seventy missionaries to do his work: healing the sick, proclaiming that God's kingdom has come. That's our mission this year (well, really every year). Next year when I fill out those reports AGAIN, I hope to do it with profound joy, because we would have significantly grown in worship attendance. Each of those numbers will represent a soul brought closer to God through the unique Oak Lawn witness. Are you ready to be sent out by the Lord of the Harvest?