As a young single person, I frequently had friends who took, what I’ll call, the cafeteria plan for “doing church.”
They went to one church’s worship services, another’s Sunday school, a small group somewhere during the week and mission activities on their own.
Faith-wise, they certainly got a well-rounded and diverse experience. But the failure to put down roots and be a part of a single congregation often left them missing the foundational piece of organized religion—being part of a community.
The willingness of younger generations to pick and choose the congregational elements to their liking gives me great concern for the modern church. When a person only participates in part of a religious system, they lose out on the nurturing and acceptance that comes from being part of the whole. When a church has a person who participates partially, that congregation loses out on the gifts and talents that, if they weren’t going elsewhere, could be utilized to make their ministries better.
No doubt, the church has responded to the diversely engaged by trying to make church better. Mega-churches, satellite sites, contemporary styles and specialty groups are nothing new to the institutional effort to preserve the growth of Christianity for the next generation.
Despite efforts, less than 20% of Americans regularly attend church (The Hartford Institute for religion research). And established churches that have been around 40 to 190 years have membership that is declining the fastest.
So, I’m always hopeful when a new church plant comes on the market or a religious body attempts a drastically different strategy to make church relevant again. But more often than not, the surge usually fades and the people drift to the next greatest way to express their faith.
My sense is this: Worship-style, big screen tvs, fancy buildings and new programming are really good marketing. But they have very little to do with keeping people connected and invested in faith communities.
Our modern world may not have the same obligation to participate in church that our parents and grandparents did, but the intent has not changed. It’s not enough anymore to go to church on Sunday because its good for us, or it’s what we are supposed to do. The desire to be a part of a faith community is still driven by the same need to belong to something, care for others and be cared for.
No matter what we come up with to bring people back to our churches on Sunday, there’s a simple children’s song that still says it all.
“A church is not a building,
A church is not a steeple
A church is not a resting place
A church is a people”
“I am the church, you are the church
We are the church together ….”