As I write this I am in Pueblo, Colorado for a week long event known as NARAM, the National Association of Rocketry Annual Meet. Each year, several hundred members of our organization meet for the national model rocket contests and for a week of sport flying (just for fun). I generally don’t compete but just fly for fun. In the evenings there are research presentations, craftsmanship model contests, movies, a charity auction, and a “state of the union” message from our president.
As I listened to the president’s message it struck me that the experience of this group of rocket enthusiasts is similar in many ways to our experience as a church. For many years the membership of this organization, as well as nearly all craftsmanship hobbies, has been in serious decline. Today’s youth are pulled in a thousand directions with video games, school clubs, and many other things and hobbies that require a skill and have a longer learning curve have suffered. The response of the NAR (National Association of Rocketry) has been to reach out to the community, schools and groups like the scouts and 4-H (evangelism, in a way). We offer programs of mentoring and teaching so that young people can experience our hobby and learn about rocketry but also interest them in the math and science that explains how it all works.
Nearly ten years ago, the NAR partnered with a group of major aircraft and aviation industry corporations to conduct an annual event called TARC, the Team America Rocketry Challenge. Teams from junior high and high schools, boy scouts, girl scouts and other youth organizations from all over the country compete against one another for $50,000 in college scholarships and a trip to the Paris airshow where our champions will compete against the champions from France, England and Japan.
But as great as the program has been, for many years, our membership wondered whether it was all worth the effort. Our membership continued to decline despite all of the time and effort that we were contributing. We heard the same sorts of things we hear in church, “Kids today just don’t have time.” or “There just isn’t as much interest in these sorts of things.” But we persisted because it was the right thing to do. We were interesting a new generation in science and mathematics and we began to see that many of the students who competed on TARC teams were going on to major in science in college. This year, our president reported that our organization reached the highest membership we have had in decades. It didn’t happen overnight and in reality, we still have a lot of work to do to stay healthy, but we do seem to be on the right track.
As I listened to the president’s speech I wondered how much our church might be just like this association of hobbyists. How often to we hear things like, “We tried that already and it isn’t working.” or “We’ve been doing that for years and it isn’t doing any good.” or even “We did that and we haven’t gotten any new members.”? What that speech reminded me was that often times there is no magic bullet. Our programs, our outreach, our evangelism, are all different than they were forty years ago. We won’t see instant results and flocks of new members overnight. But, if we do the right things, and we are persistent over the long haul, I am confident that we will see results.
We are seeing some results, even if the church isn’t filling up overnight. We must continue to do the right thing. We must remember out mission. Our mission is to reach out, to tell the world about Jesus, and to be persistent even when nothing seems to be working.
“And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13)