Week 61: "Our lectures always seem successful, but they don't build any real momentum. Is there something we can be doing differently?"

Response 1: Tim Myers

Good question, and one I think others are wrestling with. In answering the question I think it’s worth examining the concept of a relationship. I know that when I was lecturing, many times audience members who were not church members or students of Christian Science came with friends or others with whom they had a relationship. The success of those lectures in reaching the newcomer depended on those relationships.

The same is true for churches. Church’s that are successful sharing Christian Science often have a growing relationship with the community that is based on more than one or two events in a year. I remember being invited by a church to lecture at a juvenile detention center in Florida. Because of a disturbance the facility was locked down and no one was allowed in or out. I ended up speaking at a homeless facility where the manager was so excited he asked when the church could do it again. I let the church members know and they agreed to pray about it. Those prayers led them out into the community. Several members volunteered at the facility, and a member trained as a librarian went to the detention center and helped them set up and stock a library.

The next year I was invited back to lecture at the homeless facility and also the detention center. The lecture at the center was the first of what has become "Christian Science Tuesdays.” Every Tuesday for the past six years, some church members go into the facility and hold a Sunday School type class for the residents. And, they've added a girl’s detention facility also. They talk to 30-40 young people every Tuesday night. They continue to have lectures at both the center and the homeless facility.

Sometimes when I don’t feel our church is being effective in reaching out, I re-read what Mary Baker Eddy wrote to the church in Lawrence, MA. She wrote of branch Churches “reaching out their broad shelter to the entire world” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p. 154). She continued to indicate that God’s love is the key: “He will dig about this little church, prune its encumbering branches, water it with the dews of heaven, enrich its roots, and enlarge its borders with divine Love.”

I pray to know that divine Love is always effective in helping us develop a fresh and nurturing relationship between our church and our community.

Response 2: Michelle Nanouche

Your lectures give a precious inside look into Christian Science ­– what it is and what it does. More than meeting a requirement, lectures bless those that plan, sponsor, and attend. Because of your expectation of good results, I have to assume your church is giving fresh eyes to the lecture work, and approaching it with prayer before, during, and after. So if, with all that, you aren’t finding even a trickle of interest in your church, is there something wrong? Not necessarily.

We don’t always account for the movement going on behind the scenes. I just spoke with a new Mother Church member who learned of Christian Science through a lecture flyer that appeared in her mailbox ten years ago. Science and Health was pictured on it. She had been looking for a “key” to help her understand the Bible. She never attended the event; but she bought the book, discovered the key, and practiced nine years on her own before connecting with other Christian Scientists. She wasn’t alone. She was walking with God.

Another activity that often picks up around lecture time is a flurry of new calls to area practitioners. This result follows our prayer to embrace the community. Church members wouldn’t hear of this because practitioners keep confidential all information coming to them in their work. But when light is turned on the practice of Christian Science in a community, the demand is there.

Christ Jesus spoke to loads more people than those who became official disciples. He healed multitudes, preached in synagogues, and reached out to those on the street. His expectation from them was two-fold – that they glorify God and that they “sin no more” – that is, that they take to heart and into their homes what they have experienced of the Christ.

We can pray for the seeker, that he find. But the sincerest prayer leaves the seeker with the Father, and with no other strings attached. When giving a toaster to a new bride, do we give it on the condition that she uses it in our house? No. Given freely, she can go home and make toast. But every time she does, she will love you once more for your generosity in giving it. You are being loved by your community for the gifts you freely give.

Lectures make Christian Science accessible to our neighbors. But don’t judge yourself or your neighbors too harshly if you only see them that one time. We work in church not to increase a congregation, but to increase our love. If you are feeling the love, your community is getting the right message.

  1. Perfect analogy! When a gift is freely given one does not expect an immediate return - as in a return on a material investment!
    Church members invest time and effort in presenting a lecture, welcoming one and all to partake of the spiritual bread that will comfort, sustain, and heal the visitor as it has themselves.
    The truth that is spoken by the lecturer goes out to the community beyond the church walls and it does not return unto us void. This fact needs to be affirmed after the lecture to counteract any other suggestion that would deny the effectiveness of Christian Science to heal.
    The joy is in unselfish giving! No return necessary!

  2. freely ye have received [unconditionally];freely give [unconditionally].

  3. This is a fabulous question and one that our church has experienced. There often seems to be no continuity from one lecture to the next.

    Some churches I know have a series of lectures over several weeks on a related theme.

    Several years ago, we handed out a survey/questionnaire after the lecture to all attendees willing to fill it out. We asked how they heard about the lecture, what the best idea they got was, and asked for name and email to be notified of future events.

    Or you could have a sign up sheet at the back for people to give name and email and/or mailing address to be notified of future events.

    I know of a church that plans to have a follow-up Bible workshop on prayer in their Reading Room. Anyone at the lecture can sign up for it.

    These are just some ideas.

    Yes, as Tim said, it's about relationships. A good relationship is alive and growing. It provides something of value to all parties concerned. What can you do to engage the community in prayer about a certain topic? The key here is to get involved spiritually in the needs of the community. And then find ways to share with the community.

    In gearing up for a lecture, we usually pray more earnestly for the community. Why aren't we praying so actively all year round?

    But you can't just go about a bunch of human busy work. It has to be based on prayer and being led by Christ in the way that will bless the most.

    Maybe we need to get over the belief that a lecture has a beginning and an ending. The activity of the Christ expressed by lectures does not stop and start. There is no time period after the lecture. The lecture is never really over. Every lecture your church has ever given is still at work in your community.

    I don't mean this in some pie-in-the-sky, dreamy-eyed pseudo spiritual way. Jesus came to bear witness to the Truth. We have to do the same. Can you see Truth, the Good Shepherd, following up with every one in the community? Can anything prevent the Shepherd from tending the sheep and finding the strays? The more you see Christ doing this, the more you will find yourself doing it in practical ways that people in the community will respond to. How much do we really love our fellow man? What will we do to show it?

  4. Pinpoint a focus in the community that you want the lecturer to work with you on -- before and during the lecture. Cut out articles in the newspaper before and after the lecture that talk about the subject, and then see what impact the lecture has on that issue. Hold a meeting AFTER the lecture, to gather in the fruitage. Engage with a local community leader about the issue you're concerned about, and maybe have them give you ideas and insights that need handling in relation to that focus -- and ask them to introduce the lecturer. Contact local media with a press release about the issue, how your members are actively praying about it, why your lecturer is focusing on it in their talk, and get some attention to your branch's engagement with community issues and praying for our neighbors. Ask folks at the interfaith group to pray about the issue with your church -- and ask clergy at other denominations to pray with you about it. Invite them and their members to the lecture. Issue a press release a week or month or more after the lecture, talking about how the religious and civic community came together over the issue, and the results of focused prayer. Keep a scrapbook of all the letters sent, articles written, press coverage on radio/TV, and use it as the springboard for the next lecture. Then the lecture isn't just a "once a year" thing -- but an ongoing commitment to the branch's involvement with the community, and how coming together at a lecture and in prayer with our "brother birds" in other faith communities achieves wonderfully progressive success for everyone! I know this works. I've seen it. I've done it. And I've been inspired by others to do more!

  5. The idea of relationship is really powerful. Our church has a lecture coming up in early April, and we started by sending a copy of the invitation to every member of the church to copy and be ready to share with expectancy. We also have a list of regular and occasional visitors to our church, called a "friends list." We wrote to them welcoming them to join us for this talk.

    Some of my favorite citations in the Christian Science textbook deal with relationships. Here are a couple of them: S&H 316: 3-7 and 470: 32. They show that the real relationship we have is with God, and through that relationship, we become more able to relate (by virtue of reflection) to our fellow men and women, our neighbors.

    Thanks for that insight, Tim!

  6. Lovely expression of light turned on, and not light turned off on Christian science practice to our communities. A seed sowed on a rich soil no matter what it takes will enfold hundred fold.
    A Christian science lecture bring union within the communities in expressing nature is the 'I am' here and now.
    Thanks for the wonderful inspiring ideas Tim

  7. I love the above response from Michelle Nanouche: "We work in church not to increase a congregation, but to increase our love." We all know about the first (negative) part of that statement - i.e. we do not proselytise, but progressing from that to having as the (positive) principal objective of our work, INCREASED LOVE for others, and not merely a more harmonious church experience for ourselves, is something else. Whilst Christ Jesus did say: " … seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matt 6:33), he also expected 'greater works' from his followers. How about increased love as a 'greater work'?!

  8. I love the question and the responses, especially that of Michelle. I've noticed in lecture committee work at former branches, how there is a push to plan and give the lecture, then a sigh of relief and community-centered thought is put on a shelf until the same time next year. On occasion, the committee workers bring more depth, inspiration and vigor that yields fresh ideas and more fruitful lectures. Still, I often ask, how many of us even subscribe to a local paper, know of community concerns and are keenly appreciative of the good in our communities? As Tim points out, when we have nurtured relationships all year long, we find many new friend to invite.

    As Michelle notes, these lectures reach others in ways we may not know. I live in another state, nearly 2 hours from my branch church and hesitated at first to post lecture flyers here for an event so far away. But then, akin to Michelle's story, I thought these flyers are introducing the very words, Christian Science to this community, whether anyone attends the lecture or not. I thought of Paul's words: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase." Thanks for addressing this issue and I look forward to hearing more.

  9. I have enjoyed reading everyone's responses. It is obvious that people have given much thought to this interesting topic.

    I remember, back in the early to mid 1950's, when I was in high school, that my mother's church, First Church Rutherford, NJ (now closed) used to spend a lot of effort in publicizing the lectures by putting cardbord placards advertising the lecture in the storefront windows of local businesses. If you walked down the main business area, almost every business window had one of these placards. Do churches still do this kind of thing anymore, or is it considered to be a relic of the past?

    It seems to me that the CS churches are fighting an uphill battle today, with the perceived advancement of medical science. In Mrs. Eddy's day, medical practice was in a rather primitive state and many people probably thought that your chances with CS treatment were at least as good as if you had gone to a doctor. Times are drastically different today. I would say that public perception is dramatically reversed. Also, CS is no longer a "new thing", as it was in Mrs. Eddy's time.

    I remember hearing how, in the days gone by, perhaps back in the 1930's and 40's, at First Church, Montclair, NJ, they used to get such large crowds for lecturers like John Randall Dunn, that the overflow would stand outside in the parking lot, listening over loud speakers. (By the way, the Monclair church has recently sold its building to be made over into commercial suites, with a space for the church in the former Sunday School room, seating about 100 (the original sanctuary sat just over 700).

    There may indeed be a longing for spiritual truths in our society today, but somehow this interest is not translating into increased interest in CS.

    In fact, if you look at most lecture crowds, they are largely made up of CS'ers who follow the lecture circuits.

  10. Such an intriguing and challenging question! Thank you for posing it!And thank you Michelle(no2),James no3),Toodie(no4),Rodney(no7)and others for your insights and interesting comments. I am sure some of these ideas will be implemented in the lecture giving world!
    The thought which touched me the most was the fact that through our lecture giving WE grow in love and instill and share love.When I think of how much the community gives to me and to evryone is not our lecture a small, major contribution to all the love the community expresses? So what if the attendence is small and there is no visible fruitage and follow-up.A good and loving deed has taken place and God gives and knows the increase in every form and direction. Ours is the task to love and spread and share our love, God's love. NOT to dwell on the past, declining churches etc.but prepare for the future. In truth, matter has no memory and therefore no influential power in any way .As we read in last week's Bible lesson:"...forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before I (we) press toward the mark for the price of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" , time and again.

  11. Thank you Jantina.

    "Lift up your heads oh ye gates
    and be ye lifted up ye everlasting doors

  12. I came across this lecture notice in the CS Sentinel and love the honesty of this intro from 6/19/1902 – the Lansing MI lecture was on a Friday evening, held in a Universalist “Church of Our Father” (ne corner Capitol Ave. and Ottawa from an 1897 directory) and was introduced to “the audience, which was a representative one, containing people of various denominations,” by the pastor of the Franklin Avenue Presbyterian Church!

    He said in part:
    I feel my unfitness to stand here to-night, for at least two reasons: First, I myself, along with a million others, have been rolling it around under my tongue as a kind of sweet morsel, that this movement was neither Christian nor Science; and, second, the denomination I represent has in its highest judicatory refused to recognize this faith as in any sense a church of Jesus Christ.
    But I remember how that less than forty years ago, I, as a Presbyterian boy, was prohibited from ever stepping into a Methodist Church; and I am also very well aware to-day that in the history of the Christian Church, Calvinism, predestination, and infant damnation have been very bitterly assailed, as being pretty nearly destitute of anything that could be called Christian.
    "Taste and see that the Lord is good," is a favorite text of mine. There is nothing like experience to justify the ways of God to man.

  13. I am surprised that by now (Sunday afternoon, April 1), there have not been more responses to what (to me at least) seems to be an important question: "But it seems like we don’t build any real momentum after lectures–we don’t see the newcomers again, we go back to “business as usual,” and our community continues to largely be unaware of Christian Science."

    So far, most of the "reader" responses have been of the somewhat "ethereal" metaphysical sort. Not much in the way of anything tangible. Why, if the lecture is having any kind of real impact at all, shouldn't the churches expect an uptick in attendance at the services, increased community interest in CS, etc.?

    It seems to me, that in the early days of CS, when lectures were given, there were very measureable increases in attendance, etc. I am thinking of such lecturers as Bicknell Young, Edward Kimball and the like. In the early days of CS, the message of these lectures was new and different to the audiences. I guess that after more than a hundred years, the message is no longer considered as anything really that new or different.

    So far, I think the "reader" responses have "ducked" these questions.

  14. Hello from across the ocean! This is just what I was hunting for, and you wrote it well. Thx