Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Churches--What's Happening Out There?

Lately I’ve been preaching in small churches. The Reverends are on vacation and somebody has to do it. And having not shed all my ego-mania…I am enjoying writing sermons (can you believe it) and then going out in all directions and meeting new folks and seeing how different churches do it. 

Most of the churches are small. But small has nothing to do with importance. Those people who wander in Sunday after Sunday find something to keep them going. They enjoy being together and probably catching up on the news and gossip. After a long hard week battling old age or visiting someone in the hospital or just trying to slosh through another week at their job—they keep coming back. They sing old songs and choruses. They bow their heads and whisper prayers. Some say the Lord’s Prayer and recite the Çreed. They pray for their friends and loved ones. Usually there is a long list of those names their bulletins. They listen to the sermons. They take the preacher seriously—even the ones who nod off and can’t keep their eyes open. 

The Pew Research Center—that keeps taking the pulse of many things—released a report in May saying that America’s religious landscape is changing. We’re still a very religious people—though not as religious as our politicians that keep saying: ”We’re a Christian nation!”  

 Well, maybe. But this latest hoopla in South Carolina over the flag, the furor of so many over same-sex marriage and wondering: will the government force us to marry anybody—it’s coming. (Folks, I’ve turned away some couples that I thought, in my considered wisdom, were not ready—and in old age my considered wisdom has gotten a lot looser.) The church will always decide who they marry. Racism still runs like a dark thread through just about everything we do. Look at the flag controversy. We’ve sorta forgotten those 600,000 men and women who have hobbled back from the longest war in our history—wounded and broken. 71% of us still claim some kind of Christian affiliation.Yet all the polls say every church group is facing a downward turn. 

Atheists and agnostics numbers have nearly doubled while overall indifference to religion is rising. Mainline Protestants, it seems, have taken the biggest hit. Their adults dropped by 5 million from 2007 until 2014. That’s from 41 million then and 36 million now. The percentage of those folk who say they are Christian has fallen from 78.4% to 70.6%. 

This new term, nones which we keep talking about lately report that 22.8% of the US population have no religious affiliation. Not atheists exactly—just don’t know and most don’t care. Down the road from my church—and those I’ve been preaching in—are a couple of huge churches. Why they have to have policeman on Sundays just to direct traffic in their more than one services. And all of us mainliners—preachers and pew-sitters— are saying: “Why can’t we be like them? What’s wrong with us?” 

Consequently this mega-things are becoming the standard of excellence. So slowly we’re beginning to adopt some of their styles and techniques. Not all bad—but not all good. I read this article the other day that sent chills and fever through my body. It said, with a straight face, “If the mainline church is to grow it must create satellite churches much like the mega-church.” Huh? Find a room on Butler building somewhere pipe in the sermon while folks wander in and sit on folding chairs and watch a screen. Maybe I’m an old fuddy-duddy—but our standard of excellence is found elsewhere. In our desperation for more folk and more money—the answer is not to be like them. No. 

Several years ago I remember somebody asking the Hershey (as in bars) people why they were still successful after all these years. Zillions of other candy products were their competitors. They said, we just keep making chocolate—good chocolate. Out there are folk that are starving for something besides Fifty Shades of Grey or the World Cup. My friend with ALS and her family and her friends—don’t need titillation. They need some sort of lifeline to help them through whatever they face. Quiet. Mystery. Wonder. Community. A word from the Lord.

Danny Glover, in the old wonderful movie Grand Canyon,  every year would leave his boring job and tiny apartment in an unsafe neighborhood—and visit the Grand Canyon. A friend asked him why he kept doing this. It was a long way and it was costly. Danny said: “I go out there and sit on the rim of the canyon and look out—just look. And then I get up and go back home and I can make it another year.”

We mainliners really are going through changes—but we must remember our standard of excellence. Everybody I know needs to sit on the ledge and be quiet and just look until the tears come and we are open-mouthed. There are some things that technology just cannot do.

photo by Ignacio Izquierdo / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

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