The recent Pew study on the grown of “Nones” and the “Spiritual But Not Religious” has roiled the church. But we really shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve known for a long time now that the apparent “churchiness” of the fifties and sixties was an exception, not the rule.
Frankly, I’m not convinced that the statistics charted by Pew are even “a trend.” It could be argued that Americans are just getting honest about how disenchanted they are with church.
Trend or not, the disenchantment can be traced to six things that people need to hear from churches, but are rarely said:
A welcome is not just something offered at the front door. It’s not just about a few words at the front door. It’s a smile. It’s warmth. It’s ease with the stranger. It’s not something that the visitor hears. It is something that the visitor senses. Welcome is a state of mind that embraces newcomers. The visitor concludes, “I could belong here.”
“You can find God here.”
The service should suggest the presence of the transcendent God. Not the remote, prime mover-God who winds up the world and exits stage right. Not a God who is the ghost in the machine. Not a cosmic buddy. What people need to know is that the Holy is here, present and tangible.
“What do you feel God is calling you to do?”
Too many people who enter our doors hear us say, “We are glad you are here. These are the gaps in our ‘org chart.’ Which job would you like to do?” What people need to hear instead is the open-ended question, “What do you feel God is calling you to do?” That question will make life in the church elastic, changing, ever shifting. Ministries will come and go. But the work that the church does will be integrally related to the lives of those who join our communities.
“How can we help you make that calling possible?”
The church of the future will be led by people with the instincts of a spiritual director. Leaders will need to be alive to the movement of God’s Spirit in the lives of those who attend their churches and they will want to know, “How can we help?”
“The spiritual and religious dots connect in this place.”
Too much of what we do as church is about church as an end in itself. Some of that is unavoidable. Planning, budgeting, and reporting are all things that life in “the real world” requires. But they often loom too large. People who enter our churches need to know how the church’s sacraments and worship enhances the spiritual life.
“You have gifts and we are incomplete without them.”
The church is not a collection of Lone Rangers. It is the Body of Christ. There are contributions that each of us can make but there are other contributions that we can only be made when we work together. The message of the New Testament is not “you have a gift, but so do I.” The message is “you have a gift and we are incomplete without it.”