“Just doesn’t do it for me anymore.”
“Not relevant to my own life.”
“They talk, talk, talk, but never do anything.”
“It’s all pretty and nice on Sunday mornings, but where are they when we’re in the trenches Monday to Friday?”
Those could be comments heard at practically any Boston area church. As a result, whole generations of the population are missing from many congregations, because not only the worship experience, but also the follow-through, fails to connect with them on a personal level.
Undoubtedly, there are a few very successful churches that have discovered the secret of appealing to a wide range of ages and interests. Kudos to them, for they haven’t become complacent, thinking that “business as usual” should be the order of the day.
The other congregations, unfortunately—the ones losing members by the day—are struggling to just stay alive. They’re desperately hoping for some quick fix to their problems. With churches like that, pastors come and go, usually on the whim of lay leaders. “He/she was supposed to grow our church, but we never saw much improvement” is often the complaint heard at revolving-door churches. The expectations are so high, but church members fail to realize that the faith is a cooperative, collaborative effort, not the crusade of a single individual. It takes a committed congregation and a pastor, together, to make growth happen. And it isn’t just growth for growth’s sake. When you offer ministry that really meets people’s needs, growth will surely follow.
When Generation X-ers and others criticize worship for being irrelevant, it’s not intended as a put-down, but an earnest, heartfelt cry for connection with their own lives. They’d prefer not to hear lofty platitudes or academic lectures on Biblical trivia—instead, they long for an understanding of what they’re going through in their jobs, their relationships, their health concerns, in short, the real stuff that life is made of. They want someone to care about them, personally. And not respond with empty churchspeak or old, worn-out clichés.
These younger generations want a safe place to talk about their concerns and worries, where somebody really listens. And, then, there’s the matter of follow-through.
Follow-through in a faceless age.
Okay, so we have Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media that occupy so much time and attention these days. But, basically, they too, just like worship services, rely too heavily on words (although these days, pictures are also an essential ingredient in online media). Where this plan falls short is in the actual person-to-person, face-to-face interaction. That means, when somebody shares a problem or a hurt, one doesn’t simply talk about it, but do something about it.
How to put faith to work.
There are any number of ways that churches can turn words into action—instead of preaching help for the hungry, open a food pantry or create a soup kitchen. Instead of debating homelessness, join Habitat for Humanity. Or copy the example of some Lowell, MA. nuns who opened their doors to young women in transition from foster care, providing a caring, supportive home environment for young people who’d otherwise fall through the cracks of an already overburdened welfare system.
Add to these ideas family cooperatives, youth recreation centers, after-school programs, workplace or employee support groups, recycling of household goods, job hunting groups, divorce support programs, singles gatherings, day care or babysitting services, grief support groups, community coffee shops, tutoring services, housing coops, second-hand fashion shops, transportation sharing, English as a Second Language classes, and much more. These are the types of things that connect with people right where they live.
A congregation that invests in personal, community-focused ministries of this sort will have a much better chance of surviving and renewing itself than one that stubbornly sticks to old, outdated views of what church should be. Faith is vastly, significantly different in the 21st century. Those who don’t recognize that reality probably ought to begin making preparations for their own funeral.
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