Will our faith have children?
Posted on August 6, 2014 by Aaron Kauffman
[The LORD] brought [Abram] outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:5-6
Outside of Europe and North America, the church is growing by leaps and bounds. In the Anabaptist family of faith alone, membership grew by almost a third in the past decade, from 1.3 million in 2003, to nearly 1.8 today. There are more Mennonites in Africa than in North America, more in Latin America than in Europe.
Not too long ago, Mennonite World Review announced, “Mennonite Church USA membership drops.” Over the past dozen years, we have lost nearly one in five of our members. Virginia Mennonite Conference statistics show decline at nearly the same rate.
Numbers are only one measure of success, and maybe not the best one. Faithfulness—our primary aim—does not always yield impressive figures. But when Jesus compares the kingdom of God to yeast or a mustard seed, those metaphors imply growth. And basic biology teaches us that living things reproduce.
So when I see numbers decline in the church family, I have to wonder: Are we spiritually barren? What’s the fertility treatment for a shrinking church?
We must acknowledge that our apparent “infertility,” like Abram and Sarai’s, is no obstacle to God’s purposes. God doesn’t need the programs and plans we have to offer. The drama of salvation doesn’t depend on human ingenuity.
According to sociologist Conrad Kanagy, Anabaptist churches in the Global South have a missionary passion for non-Christians, endure hardship and persecution, emphasize discipleship in life, teach a gospel for the whole person, and embrace the work of the Holy Spirit (Winds of the Spirit, p. 249). In other words, they have a basic trust in the good news of Jesus and its power to change lives and communities.
“The gospel,” as Paul reminds us in Romans, “is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” The potency of God’s kingdom movement lies not in us, but in the message of Jesus we’ve been entrusted to share. And if we won’t proclaim it, God will simply find someone else who will.
God may not need our worship services and programs, but God wants us to collaborate in this global kingdom movement. At VMM’s Church Planters Retreat in June, I met young leaders with courageous, contagious faith who love God and their neighbors, live simply, and pray boldly.
To recover our spiritual vitality, we must humbly ask the Holy Spirit to rekindle our confidence in the transforming power of the gospel. Consider joining us in person or in spirit, when our staff gathers to pray every Wednesday at 10:00 a.m.
In Jesus, God is reconciling the world, and we’re invited to be part of it. The first step is to follow Abram’s lead, and believe.