The best time to sow seed in your community was 10 years ago, the next best time is right now.

It takes time for anything you plant to take root and grow.  The truth revealed in Scripture is relevant to us today in that not all seed you sow will take root and grow.  Those seeds that do root and grow produce an abundant harvest far beyond the individual seeds potential.   But in order to have a harvest, lots and lots of seeds have to be sown.  If your congregation hasn't been sowing seeds for years, no matter how hard you pray, you won't reap a harvest.

During seminary I served a congregation that at one time had 450 members and had dwindled down to just 32 elderly people.  They lamented the decline of their congregation.  Many of the elderly had raised kids and grandkids in that church.  As the kids and grandkids moved away, the congregation began its long decline down to 32 elderly souls.  This congregation had been planted 60 years earlier down the street from their current location in a small converted house that had a maximum capacity of 65.  As they grew they moved up to the middle of the block and built a small building that could seat 120, then finally they moved up to the corner and built a lovely sanctuary that seats 200 with a large two story education wing and a large fellowship hall.  Their first church building was purchased by another church and is bursting out the seams.  The sanctuary that seats 65 is packed with people having to stand in the narthex.  The church in the middle of the block was purchased by another congregation and it too is bursting at the seams.  The once large Lutheran church with its large sanctuary, education wing and fellowship hall sits almost empty.  Why?  The answer is, they stopped sowing seed in their community years ago.  Though they lament their decline, and pray regularly for God to revive their once lively congregation, they continue to long slow decline toward death because they refuse to engage their community and sow seed.

I talk to pastors and leaders of congregations who question God's faithfulness because instead of growing they are declining and dying.  Often I hear pastors say that they are faithful to the Word and sacraments, then ask why isn't God blessing their congregation with growth.  The truth of the matter is, if you are not out in the community sowing seeds you will not, you cannot, expect a harvest.  Being faithful to Word and sacraments inside your church on Sunday is only one part of faithfulness.  The other part of faithfulness is faithfully following Jesus out of your church building and into the community where He is actively seeking and saving what was lost.

Pastors have to follow Jesus out of the church building and into their community first before they can lead God's people to follow.  St. Paul said, "Follow me as I follow Christ."  This would be a good thing for pastors to learn.  Get out of your office, get into the community.  Volunteer one day a week with a local organization that is serving your community.  Rub elbows with people in your community, get to know people who don't go to church.  You will be amazed at how easy it is to get out of your church building and into your community.  Then, after you have learned how its done, you can begin to lead God's people in your flock out of the building and into the community.  

The best time for you to have done this is 10 years ago, the next best time is right now.

If you need suggestions on how to get out into your community, I'd be glad to help with some practical suggestions. 
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James
5/16/2013 10:56:40

Ouch! I have to admit that I am one of those church leaders that has focused on being faithful in serving the people gathered, but have done little to sow seeds in our community. I serve a congregation that has dwindled from 215 souls 20 years ago to about 50 today. We are barley able to pay our bills or afford my salary. We have lamented our decline and prayed to God for help. But I haven't been faithful to sow seeds and I certainly haven't led my people out of the church building, as you put it, and into our community. To be honest, I am afraid because I don't know what to do and I'm afraid my people will be upset if I spend work time doing something other than serving them. I am 5 years from retirement and can probably coast until then doing what I've always done. Your article has challenged that thinking. I don't want to retire from a congregation in serious decline. But I really don't know what to do and I'm afraid I don't have the gumption to do anything.

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Henry
5/17/2013 16:16:59

The church is at a critical time in America. We can no longer do church the way it's always been done and expect to reach people. In my city people are not attracted to church and do not come no matter how high quality our services or events are. Eric is right on, I hope and pray for more voices like his to speak to the church. I heard someone at a conference say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. The church today is insane, and not in a good way. The same old come to us mentality is killing our churches, be must get out of our churches and into the community. Nuf said.

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