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I recently read an article that gave me great hope.  It’s about a doctor who broke the rules in order to improve peoples’ lives in nursing homes.

Here’s the synopsis:

Dr. Bill Thomas, a Harvard-trained physician and a 2015 Next Avenue Influencer in Aging, has a message he’d like to share with the world: Growing older is a good thing.

A recent Washington Post story highlighted Thomas’s crusade to change attitudes about aging and encourage people to think of “post-adulthood” as a time of enrichment. “Thomas believes that Americans have bought so willingly into the idea of aging as something to be feared that it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy leading to isolation, loneliness and lack of autonomy,” the article stated.

And here’s what he did to carry this out:

“[Dr. Thomas] decided to transform the nursing home. Based on a hunch, he persuaded his staff to stock the facility with two dogs, four cats, several hens and rabbits, and 100 parakeets, along with hundreds of plants, a vegetable and flower garden, and a day-care site for staffers’ kids.

And the result:

Caring for the plants and animals restored residents’ spirits and autonomy; many started dressing themselves, leaving their rooms and eating again. The number of prescriptions fell to half of that of a control nursing home, particularly for drugs that treat agitation. Medication costs plummeted, and so did the death rate.

“He named the approach the Eden Alternative — based on the idea that a nursing home should be less like a hospital and more like a garden — and it was replicated in hundreds of institutions in Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia as well as in all 50 U.S. states (the animal restriction in New York was voted down).”

Wow.  That’s awesome and that’s the type of place I would want to go to when I get older.

What if though…

What if we applied the creativity of Dr. Thomas to other things.  What if we became creative in our thinking about church?  I wonder what that would look like?  I wonder what would happen that would change people’s attitude to want to come to church – not because of some marketing ploy, but because of a real change of attitude and focus on promoting life worth living.

And it’s not about propping up the church either.  It’s about living out the mission the church is called to.  When the church focuses on the numbers – how many members, decline rate, revenue, etc. – it’s the wrong focus and leads to further decline.  Because the church isn’t about the numbers.  It’s about God and people.

The magic behind Dr. Thomas’ approach, as far as I’m concerned, is the change in focus of what is important to those in charge of a nursing home – away from the numbers and a focus on the people living there. Dr. Thomas, in a way, made disciples who carried the new attitude to other and because of this belief and message, peoples’ lives changed.  And it wasn’t about the nursing home – it was just a tool to help carry out the message and belief.  Kind of like what church should be too.

When you focus on the people, the numbers change.  When you focus on the numbers, people either leave or people change and usually not in a good way.

So, how about it church?  What if we turned away from the numbers?  What if let go of the fear of decline and irrelevance and started to focus on the mission we were called to – to share a message of God’s grace and love with people.  I wonder what would happen.