All across the spectrum of western Christianity, the churches are losing membership. Public polling shows that when asked about religious preference, people are marking with increasing frequency, “None.” While this could be deeply depressing to those of us who believe in congregational life…I don’t see it that way.
There is another area that is increasing in its frequency, “Spiritual but not religious.” For me, this is a sign of great hope. People still have a great spiritual yearning. If this is true, and it is, then the church simply needs to figure out how to meet that need. While that’s not as easy as it sounds; it is doable. So what’s stopping us?
Do you remember back when “What was good for General Motors was good for America?” Somewhere back around the 60’s, Japanese imports began showing up on the streets of America. Americans, as it turned out, were clamoring for smaller, more efficient, and cheaper automobiles. GMC was convinced these Americans were wrong. How did that one work itself out? Rule one through one hundred, “Listen to your customer.”
Now, before you rock my world, I know that church is not a commodity to be sold like automobiles. But, I also know that the genius of the congregational movement is that the people are God’s method for discerning the will of God. I believe people are yearning for the “Holy” as never before. They are being distracted, as much as possible, by a culture of consumption but deep down they hunger for deeper things. Our task, as people of God, is to meet that at least half way, if not more.
The problem is in part that it is really hard for congregations to change or refuse to do so. Some can change, but most are unable to make significant changes. It is understandable, as like myself we are who we are. This is why is it much easier and more successful to plant new congregations with their new ways of being than it is to change existing congregations. Now, to be sure, some congregations are in situations where they don’t need to change a thing, but those numbers are pretty limited. If you have a lot of extra pew space on Sundays, and it is getting worse then change is in order.
I am reminded of how trees re-seed themselves. Each year the old Maple tree develops these quarter sized winged-seeds. At the proper time, the wind comes along and seeds go airborne. Flung far and wide these seeds give birth to the future. Is your congregation planting seeds for the future of your beloved UCC church and the sharing of the gospel? I pray it is so.
These and other important matters will be discussed at our Annual Meeting on June 9-10 at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. Please register and attend. Be God’s instrument of discernment.