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Fred,
Though a different system, Freemasonry is suffering the same challenge, as are most volunteer organizations that are member specific. This is true down even to groups like the Boy Scouts and Community Watch organizations.
Somewhere, there has occurred a disconnect in society to belonging to a group.
In my own circles, we lay blame on television, the internet, incongruous family life, more options to free time, or a greater disdain towards belonging to something that may not completely codify ones being.
The Pew Institute did something on this some time back and it noted that there was a turn away from organized religion towards a more spiritual one, meaning many were not becoming members of one of the many mainline groups, preferring instead to just follow their own path.
So what does that mean for churches, or lodges? It likely means consolidation, hard choices, and change from what we knew in the past. Its a hard answer, and really one were faced with in a few places in the world today. How many of us are forced to re-evaluate our lifestyle based on our ability to work, to live where we want to, and to do the things we want to do?
The example that you noted of the church moving to a store front I think is a step in the right direction, which is when faced with uncertainty, do something different. We know the old paradigms are not working, so we are forced to do something new, and how well they work depends on the metrics we put to them. Is a successful ministry measured by the number of conversions to believers, the number of cheeks in seats, or in the accounts receivable column of the offerings? Truly, in the face of this change, looking at the problems from the same perspectives will scare us to death and only serve to expedite what we see as the inevitable. Rather, if we look at what we want our results to be, then will we see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I feel for those you counseled, I truly do. Things will brighten, I promise.

Fred,
Very thought-provoking post. Your question to a dying church, "What will you differently?" is right on target. This is what I think:
A church (or any group) that tries to save itself will perish; a church that tries to save the world will survive. Christianity is perishing because it has been trying to save itself. If Christianity can turn around with a commitment to save the world, the humanity as a whole, it is going to exist. Can we feel like a part of humanity, and make contribution to its well-being, rather than stay as an isolated group inviting others to join us to get saved?

Fred,
I know from what I heard at the workshops I attended, and from others I've spoken with, that one problem seems to be the lack of trust in organizations. The leaders of these groups (many times the larger organization rather than the local ones) are out of touch with the needs of the members and are interested only in controlling them and continuing to build their own fiefdoms. Most individuals see that and shy away from committing to it.
In addition, the younger people stay connected in a much more distant fashion, via social media (though I don't know how you could call it social if you aren't physically present to each other), texting, etc. The old games of fear don't play with that crowd, and I think they are increasingly not playing with the older crowd, either.
I don't know what the answer is, but it lies in understanding how to be relevant to each other in today's world, a world much different than it was 50 years ago.

One can talk all day long about how the decline in church attendance is due to video games, the Internet, American individuality, etc. But none of that will solve the solve the problems you describe in the post.

Why not try looking at those churches that are growing and figure out what you can learn from them? That would necessitate more than simply dismissing them as "ultra-conservative, fundamentalist, cultic churches," of course. It would require the humility to admit that perhaps they're doing something right that you're doing wrong.

Perhaps in some ways they're more in tune with God, Maybe they're more adept at forging psychological bonds among their members. I don't know. But I do know that learning from something that succeeds is more profitable by far than ruminating over another thing that's an obvious failure. When someone moves the cheese you either move with it or die.

I've sat in too many pews over the years and listened to clergy persons "preach at" the congregation, telling them they would have to change or get passed by - and yet, it was the clergy who enabled the laity to remain passive recipients of professional paternalistic services which inhibited spiritual growth and the "edification of the Body". The system is dysfunctional... and the people who have remained faithfully and ignorantly attached to it suffer as a result.

Hi Fred,

I'm a "new" Christian, I was water baptized on April 25, 2010. I'm so happy and blessed that I finally took this step. Anyway, I read your blog, and my heart goes to the folks you spoke with but still it left me with a few questions in my head.

It is very sad that a number of churches are closing but some of the blame to this dire situation lies on the churches themselves. May I suggest a book that I've yet finished reading, Breaking Out of Religious Christianity by Duane Harlow. Perhaps I'm a little confused with some parts of this article, with the cases you brought up as examples. I don’t know the details.

It's my understanding that the Church is Jesus and Jesus is the church. When He lived among the people, Jesus took his preaching to the them, and people came and listen…after His death and his resurrection the church was supposed to be representing Him.. So these ministers/preachers might lose the physical aspect of it (the building) but they will never lose the church. Now, if they have to go back and begin in a small space again then that is what needs to be done…but before this, they have to deeply reflect and figure out what went missing in all this and not just blame it on “television, the internet, incongruous family life, American individuality” as another commenter stated.


What are they really sad about? Are they sad about the lost of “their” building or the members straying from the word of God, and the fellow shipping?

This comment of yours, "here was this woman who had served her church for most of her eight decades. And now, in the years when the church should have been serving her, her beloved church was dissolving before her eyes," confused me. The church never belonged to her much less for it to be “serving” her.


[email protected] said, “Why not try looking at those churches that are growing and figure out what you can learn from them? That would necessitate more than simply dismissing them as "ultra-conservative, fundamentalist, cultic churches," of course. It would require the humility to admit that perhaps they're doing something right that you're doing wrong.”
Perhaps Fred’s description of other churches was a bit harsh and unnecessary considering that overall church attendance is decreasing in numbers, and because of this, regardless the denomination, churches should really be working together.

Also, “freethinker” was this comment necessary, “Perhaps in some ways they're more in tune with God?” Or were you being defensive?
Like I said, I’m a new Christian..and although yes we aren’t perfect that doesn’t mean that we take advantage of that fact and forgets some of Jesus’ teachings and examples..let’s not forget how to treat each other.

Fred, I can feel your helplessness. Do not be discouraged. Nothing is hopeless for those whose hope is in the Lord. Know this, you DID help; you DID give them the answers. The Christ in you took time to listen and give the aged man ideas how to stay connected to people. His heart asked, "Will I be alone and unloved?" You answered by your genuine interest, "The Church is the Body of Christ and we are a part of each other." Likewise you answered the same question in the woman's heart. With that hug, the Christ in you told told her, No." For more on this topic, please follow this link and search for "Dwindling Church?". An enclosed link will bring you back, but you may have to sign in again to post... http://mojedapoet.wordpress.com

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