Mick’s Memo – Why Church?

A friend sent me this excerpt from The Wall Street Journal, June 25th edition; written by Gerald F. Seib…

“…The steady, long term decline in church attendance is confirmed in the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll. Just 29% of Americans now say they attend religious services once a week or more often. That is down from 41% in 2000.

  At the same time, the share of Americans saying they never attend religious services has risen to 26%, almost double the 14% who said so back in 2000. The rise in churchlessness is most dramatic among young Americans, Among those aged 18 to 34, the rate saying they never attend religious services previously was no different from the national rate; now the share of these younger Americans who never attend religious service has more than doubled, to 36%.”

I found this very thought-provoking, even troubling. How do you react to this kind of news?  We can try to rationalize.  “People aren’t attending as much because of the convenience of TV preachers and streaming of services.”  “The younger generation just isn’t interested in spiritual matters.” Those rationalizations are tempting because they put the onus on the non-attender and assume that we, the church, have no responsibility to evaluate and respond to this new reality.

If we choose to take a critical look at ourselves there are some very different options to consider.  Some would say we need to “double down” and “get back to more traditional forms and expressions of faith”, letting the chips fall as they may.  They would say the “seeker” movement is nothing more than “entertainment” and that is precisely why people are opting out.  Others would say that the church hasn’t gone far enough in accommodating contemporary life and social forms.  They would say smaller, decentralized, more “organic” expressions of church should replace central gatherings and large services and social justice should be the focus instead of evangelization.

What’s the answer?  Should the church “stay the course” or “accommodate at all cost”?  I believe a critical look is healthy and should be undertaken with prayer and humble transparency.  The stakes are the welfare of a whole generation now and more generations in the future.  I’m glad we were led to pursue the assessment of church health with The Center.  It helped us get a snapshot of our internal thinking.  The information gained has helped us see some of our blind spots and develop plans to address them.  Our staff is diligently planning the initiatives and adjustments that can help us enhance our effectiveness.  But this is not a “one time” prescription for reversing the kind of trend represented by the statistics above; it will involve sustained assessment and adjustment of efforts.

Our generation is asking themselves, “Why church?”.  Some are indifferent out of ignorance of their spiritual condition—to them we are offering to scratch an itch they don’t perceive themselves as having.  Some are confused by the mixed messages of institutions that are called “church” but don’t seem to present a unified message—to them we seem to be a bad risk if we cannot even agree with one another.  But others sense the emptiness, pain, loneliness, unanswered questions and longings for significant connection with other people and a purpose (being?) higher than themselves.  I’m sure there are many more perspectives.

I believe we can and should seek to understand how we can meet people in these places.  They may not initially come to us; but the church is not a building, we are a gathering.  We need to go to them in our neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, clubs and community events. We bring the church with us when we intentionally and conscientiously accept our role as Jesus’ representatives.  We need to use the means of communication that this generation uses.  We can help them perceive their need for Jesus’ intervention.  We can convey the simple clarity of the message of the gospel. We can show and tell them of the compelling hope and help that comes from knowing that we are created on purpose, for a purpose. 

We are surrounded by institutions attempting to “make life better”—government, educational institutions, service clubs, and specialized not-for-profit agencies. None embody the hope needed by our generation that only the church can provide.  I pray that we as individual followers of Jesus and as the church assembling here at CrossRoads will take up the challenge of giving a positive answer to our generation as they ask themselves, “Why Church?”

I was encouraged by the enthusiastic turnout at the annual meeting.  I also want to express my appreciation to Howard Carr who concluded his 3 years of faithful service on the Elder Board and to Harry Capone, Jr. for willingly joining the board for the next 3 years. 

This weekend we will honor and pray for our graduating high school and college students.  The message will focus on “Transitional Waypoints”, looking at God’s message to Joshua as he was installed as Israel’s leader after Moses’ death.

Looking forward to seeing you!

Mick

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