Reports about the disappearing and dying church have already been featured in this Examiner space. What's new this time?
The latest Pew Forum study paints a pretty gloomy picture for the organized church--as a result, some are predicting that in a short while, churches will be so few in number and so meaningless to the U.S. culture that they'll be no better than "civil war re-enacters" who get together to carry on quaint, antiquated ceremonies and not do much else.
There's a lot of painful truth to that prophecy. (And we have to remember not to shoot the messenger). But is that really the whole story?
We can all look around us, in metro Boston, the suburbs, western Mass., or wherever, and see evidence of the Pew-propagated, "sky is falling," panic-driven fear that God has left the building, and no one really cares any more.
Is that so?
Sure, there are plenty of older generation parishioners who are hanging on for dear life, resisting any call to renew, reform, or rebirth the church. Their insistence on preserving outmoded liturgies and rituals, or doing things the way they've always been done, is a big factor in the loss of young families and modern generation members.
But other factors also include a cocooning, isolationist culture; self-focused, egocentric agendas; or intense competition for people's attention from an odd combination of things like shopping, entertainment, sports, web surfing, under- or over-employment, working families, extracurricular school or outside activities, and on and on. One can't pin all the blame on an increasingly irrelevant religion.
But what we can do is ask, "how did we get here," and "what do we do now?"
Numbers of people, including denomination officials, have been trying to answer those questions, to their credit. But where it all falls apart is in the follow-through -- not too different from those of us complaining about our inability to effect a change in our own lives, as in our efforts to lose weight, find a job, stop dysfunctional patterns, etc.
We could all use a bit more courage, and a lot more commitment, if we really want to move forward. Just talking about it--or reporting gloom & doom Pew statistics--is no substitute for action.
Have you supported, really supported, a local pastor's initiatives to radically change a congregation's "business as usual" mindset? Have you personally sought new ways to express your own faith, within the folds of an established church community (rather than simply going off solo to meditate or pursue other solitary forms of spirituality)?
And, have you wrestled with, and tried to come up with solutions for, the challenge of connecting with a young generation that doesn't want anything to do with organized religion?
Oh yes, and then there's the issue of all those other distracting but critically important tangents like improving the role of women in the church, eliminating discrimination or exclusion of any kind (no married priests, no same-gender relationships, no really meaningful cross-cultural or interfaith outreach).
We could even stand to extend a few olive branches to the Islamic world, instead of attacking them, treating them like lepers, or running away from them in stark terror.
If we all tried to do a few of these things, and made them our top priority, perhaps those trends reported by Pew would take a decidedly different direction.