Wither the Church?


I was talking with a colleague the other day, and we were bemoaning the state of affairs in the Church today, as well as the state of affairs in our own churches. As we were talking, I began to realize what the situation really was–we were on the Titanic, heading toward the iceberg. The iceberg is mostly composed of the lack of young people in churches today, but that may well be just the part that’s poking up out of the water. Underneath the water we see churches that grew fat and lazy in the post war era, mostly downtown churches. Every downtown church is one or two bad pastor’s away from death or serious damage. And while most pastors are working hard, and, at least in my tradition, are pretty smart people, the idea of the best and brightest going into ministry has long since passed.

The number of people who identify as “spiritual, but not religious” is on the rise, and not just with young people and the number people who are pissed off at the church for one reason or another seems to be growing even faster. (Thank God for Pope Francis, who seems to get what being a Christian is all about, and does not let being the Pope stand in the way of being a Christian.)

So we are heading for an iceberg. What do we do?

The church is a huge institution. Even if you are in a small church, the institutional history is huge enough to make it VERY, VERY hard to turn. Some prefer to ignore the iceberg, while others take the stance that the iceberg should just not be there. They don’t like the iceberg and think it should get out of our way.

Like THAT will ever happen.

Other churches are trying to grapple honestly with the situation. When I was interviewing churches I was surprised how many had a mission statement that consisted more of questions than answers.

This is a time for questions. What does it mean to be church today? After WWII, as the suburbs expanded, churches reached out to all those new homeowners, most of home had decent jobs, and by reaching out, I mean they basically opened their doors. People would look for a church, and it did not take a whole lot to be church. Essentially church revolved around Sunday School, Sunday worship, Youth Group for kids, and monthly pot luck fellowships. Committees ran the church, and while it could get crazy at times, that essentially worked.   That old model is working less and less these days.

What will replace it? Many churches can still continue to slide by on the old models, but as time passes they will become more and more irrelevant. To date I have not seen a new model that I think will work effectively.

The iceberg is looming. Can we turn fast enough to avoid disaster? And if we do turn, what is our new course (of action)?

I would love to hear from folks on this.

About tmrichmond3

I am the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Medford, Oregon. I believe that faith should be able to sustain us, not oppress us.
This entry was posted in Church, ministry, religion and politics, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Wither the Church?

  1. Marthanne Goodwin Dedrick says:

    Could it be that our church or those in the mainstream…. are making a transition from a place where a religion is practiced (surface experience) to a place where one’s faith and spiritually has a place to be expressed .. in ways that enrich lives of the people around us. There is a big difference between “religion” ( a ritual practice) and Faith (a life lived in a way that acknowledges ones personnel relationship with Christ) a internal connection. i do not see a end…. I see a new beginning…. where faith is lived on a daily basis extending unconditional love to those we come into contact with. ” If we live it…. they will come”. It may mean…. that it is time for all of us to get down and dirty… reaching out to those who need us the most. Everyone needs a place to belong, a place where they are accepted, loved and valued. Is this not the the definition of a church? . i recognize that as humans we feel this need to control….what if we let go and Let God?

    Post script: As someone who left our denomination about 14 years ago and attended a fellowship for a about 10… coming home to First Presbyterian…. was like coming home to family. where it appeared everyone was valued an loved. I found the love of God a life and well….

  2. tmrichmond3 says:

    I love that phrase–If we live it, they will come. I hope you don;t mind if I steal that for one of my sermons! I think you basically right. The idea of Church as an obligation, or a commitment, or a social requirement is long gone. Marcus Borg said we are in a better position because those who are here are committed to be here. Look at how active many of our members are!

    • marthanne says:

      Good morning from New Orleans. ..yes you may steal that line.  I would be honored.  Marthanne 

      Sent from my U.S. Cellular® Smartphone

  3. Andrea B. K. says:

    Funny you’re posting this almost exactly a year after I “dropped out” of church. I have lots of opinions on the subject…

    You got my attention with the “reaching out to new homeowners” bit – I’d never seen it put that way before. The church I used to go to would talk all the time about needing “young couples with children.” Ad nauseam. I had a long conversation with one of our outreach people in which I quoted all kinds of stats on shifting demographics, especially in the Raleigh area – people marrying later in life, having kids later, having kids outside of marriage, being married without kids. My point was what a narrow slice of the pie they were focusing on. I thought I actually got through, but it didn’t change a thing. If they’d been focusing on “new homeowners” perhaps they would be having more success.

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