Are we creating vital churches on a sinking island?

Diana Butler Bass shared a story on the "Robcast" podcast. This is about a vital and vibrant United Methodist Church on Tangier Island. Tangier Island is in the Chesapeake Bay and is one of the places in the world where rising sea levels are dramatically changing the island. Namely, the island is being swallowed up by the ocean. 

Bass shared that on this island is an old UM congregation that has the longest continuous Methodist class meeting (a type of small group). This group dates to the days of John Wesley. This church is doing great things for the community and, as Bass said, "doing all the right things". However, the land on which this community is built is sinking. 

Over the past several years the United Methodist Church has emphasized how important it is to create vital congregations. And we should be doing that. However, all the focus on creating vital congregations that "do all the right things" may obscure our vision that the ground on which the Church is built may be sinking. 

The church is built on trust. Disciples trust Christ. Laity trust pastors. Pastors trust Bishops and Superintendents. Non-member trust that even though they may not attend, the Church is trying to do good. Clergy trust other clergy are not in competition with each other but in connection and collaboration. We trust that resources shared make a greater impact than resources of one local church. 

The Church is not the only thing built on trust. The stock market and governments are also built on trust. We even use trust as a primary litmus test for who we support for president. All of these institutions built on an expression of trust all face troubled waters. There is mistrust among states to to give any aid to them. Congress has some of the lowest approval ratings of all time. There is a lack of trust toward banks, Wall Street brokers and police departments. 

And so we come to the question facing the church: Are we creating vital churches on a sinking island? What can the Church do to rebuild trust? 

Originally posted January 27, 2016