Saturday, December 8, 2012

Growing Church

We know that for nearly every denomination, numbers are shrinking, folks in the pew are aging, and the most robustly growing group in the US are the unaffiliated (who are a mixture of anyone not part of a church, ranging from atheists to believers to Church-rejects).

Every church is worried about its future.

How timely then this article from The Lutheran:
Ask any group in your church: "Why do people not come to worship? What keeps people away from church?" You might hear:
• "We need a better youth program."
• "We have to have a different style of worship service."
• "We need to advertise."
• "If only we had a nursery for young children." 
The rallying cries will begin. Usually they center around programs. If the church could just provide better programs, or more programs, people would begin to come back to church. Occasionally you will hear about preferences — about the time or worship style. Then there is the question of staff: those who think that if the right person were pastor, director of Christian education or worship director, people would come flooding through the doors.
These are the answers that church people give when they try to figure out why people don't go to church. Friends, we could not be more wrong. 
I recently spent a week using social media to "listen" to people who do not go to church — listening to their explanations for why they stay away. I didn't argue with them. I didn't defend the church. I just listened. And what I heard broke my heart.

The No. 1 thing that keeps people away from the church is the people who are in the church.
It's not that people outside the church have low expectations of Christians. It's the opposite. They expect us to actually live out the things we proclaim on Sunday. They expect us to love our neighbor, care for the least of these and love our enemies.
We can change the time of our worship. We can change the style of our worship. We can buy full page ads in the newspaper. We can add programs for youth and families and elders and couples. None of it will matter. Not one bit.

It will not make a bit of difference until we begin to live out the things we proclaim on Sundays. The church won't grow until we learn to treat one another with love and respect at congregational and council meetings.
Not a surprise, really, when you read in the polls that young people think "church" is about being anti-gay or judgmental, or the news reports from Minnesota of Roman Catholic parishes divided over their Prop8-style amendment, or the hate emails directed at a church for hosting an inter-faith event....

So if you aren't that sort of Christian, how do you tell people that?  As one of the people I know asked, how do we tell people passing by what goes on behind the red door?


June Butler said...

IT, thanks for the link to the article, which is excellent. You are a fine evangelist for the Episcopal Church, far better than I and many Christians I know.

Counterlight said...

I'm afraid that the problem is just as the article says, that so many Christians are just awful people. As a regular church-goer, even I think so.

Unknown said...

Hang a large rainbow flag on the church and post a sign saying: "All Welcome: we are NOT Evangelicals."

Have elaborate processions in the street--the busiest street possible--every Sunday in fancy dress, singing and swinging incense. "Join us: we have fun!"

PseudoPiskie said...

We have a couple who don't care for the preacher - talks too long - and don't like the music but they come pretty regularly because they like the people.

JCF said...

Like the banner idea, H.E., but in my version, it would just say "We are not homophobes, ALL are welcome and EQUAL in the eyes of God. No exceptions."

As far as "Evangelical" goes: while some would see that as "= homophobe", others might see it as "= Happy-Clappy". While that would never be MY cuppa, I continue to see Anglicanism as having room for different kinds of "church" (aka "High&Crazy, Low&Lazy, Broad&Hazy"). As long as every kind is inclusive of God-given human diversity!

Unknown said...

JCF, you must be a Brit. Hereabouts we don't think of Evangelicals as Happy-Clappy style Anglicans--we mean conservative non-mainline Protestants, typically members of the Religious Right.

But what about my idea of weekly processions in the streets? Why not? I'm serious: the idea is to display elaborate, exotic ceremonies publicly.

IT said...

HE, I think there's something to that, just because things Behind Closed Doors are intimidating. Our parish has processions several times a year:

Palm Sunday
St George's Day
Blessing of the Animals
and of course
a very active presence at Pride.

But there does need to be more to tell the passer by on a Friday aftenoon why he might want to come back on Sunday.

JCF said...

Nope, H.E., I'm a Yank.

But I'm also formed ecumenically, esp by my brothers & sisters in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Counterlight said...

I think a procession in the streets would be nothing more than just so much exotic street theater. I think the world beyond the church door lives by the motto of the great state of Missouri when it comes to all this selfless love business that we always preach, "Show Me!"

June Butler said...

Counterlight, I agree. If more Christians lived the Gospel outside the church building, more people might be attracted to what goes on inside the church building.

JCF said...

"I think a procession in the streets would be nothing more than just so much exotic street theater."

That's a bad thing?

I think "The World" would laugh at us . . . and I *welcome* that laughter. If you think of the classic Corpus Christi procession (priest carrying monstrance), could anything be more ridiculous?

...but that's why I love them so much! As the "Chick Tract" likes to say, it IS the "Jesus Cookie" (and as IT likes to say, we ARE "vampires", what w/ the Blood-drinking).

We should embrace our ridiculousness---our "Holy Fool"-ishness. Load up the clown-car, we got ourselves a circus! Y'all join in!

Unknown said...

OK, JCF, but you know and I know that when Americans say "evangelical" they don't mean ELCA ;-)

And IT, why not EVERY week? Why be stingy? Agreed some passers by might want more, but all I every wanted to get me in the door was elaborate ceremony.I joined the church to get that, to get the ticket to participate in liturgy. And for no other reason. I agree though, getting in the door was scary. But to make that less scary, make it possible for people to get in without being noticed and participate without making personal contact.

Unknown said...

Grandmere Mimi, I wouldn't be in any way affected one way or the other if more Christians "lived the Gospel." What are you saying here: that being Christian makes you a better person? If so, it follows that people who aren't Christians are ceteris paribus less good. And I find that both impossible to believe and a little bigoted. Face it: religious belief doesn't in the aggregate make people better.

And why should people be more attracted to getting inside the church building if the people inside were morally better? Who cares? I'm not attracted to Nordstrom's because of the virtue of their shoppers. Who knows and who cares? I'm interested in what the church provides--not the moral character of the customers, who are of absolutely no interest to me.

June Butler said...

What are you saying here: that being Christian makes you a better person?

You answered the question before you gave me a chance H.E. Have you already made up your mind about what my answer will be? Shall I trouble myself to answer? Well, I will anyway.

I don't think I'm a better person than anyone else. Not at all. Not one bit. What I do think is that I am a better person than I would be if I had no faith. As Evelyn Waugh said, "I'd hardly even be a human being." :-) Is that helpful?

IT said...

I think it's not that people are better, but if they actually live up to their faith, they might TRY to be better.

When I drive my wife's car, which has a big ol' "Episcopal Church Welcomes You!" sticker on the back, I'm aware of the need to "measure up" to that sticker. Wouldn't want to cut someone off and have him think 'piskies are selfish or mean.

Likewise, when my car sported an Obama sticker, i made sure more than usual that I drove courteously -- so that I reflected well on that identity.

(These day my own car just sports the cryptic HRC equals sign.)

JCF said...

"Being a Christian" doesn't make you a better person (most evidence points to the contrary!).

FOLLOWING CHRIST (Christ's way) makes you a better person. Sadly, this manner-of-life seems to be more common among non-Christians.

[H.E., I think the Lutherans made a noble effort to RECLAIM the word "Evangelical" when they formed their (united) church 25 years ago: I just want to honor that. Beyond that, however, I think the word is inherently *good*. It's about GOOD News. But most Christians---paradigmatically, most "Evangelicals"---turn the message of Jesus into BAD News. :-( ]

Pastor David said...

Thank you for sharing my article, and for the wonderful conversation here! (And hello, Grandmere! Good to see you again!)

June Butler said...

Hi David. :-)