Fear Of Whales

Tales of a reluctant minister

Pew Research: A Third Wave Response Proposal

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By now, it’s old news, but I’ve never been good at following trendy keywords that bring hits to my blog. Per research released a study that shows religious affiliation falling fast in the United States, with Mainline membership falling fastest of all. I’ve seen two waves of responses to this, and want to propose a third.

The first responses tended to be very alarmist. Avowed atheist communities cheered for the first death throws of Christianity, and many Christians seemed to grant the premise that they were right. We started to see blog articles, and ministry strategies for “Ministering in a post-Christian world” and finding ways to Include (if liberal) or evangelize (if conservative) the “Nones” which is a ridiculous term we started using for people with no religious affiliation, the “Spiritual but not religious”

After a few months, we stopped sounding the alarm bells as we realized that things proceeded pretty much the same as they always have. After all, the study itself showed only a modest decline, and we needed a study to even notice. Pompous responses started to flow in, that identified those who left as the least committed church members, and tried to imply we were better off without them. This wave recognized that the social benefits to self-identifying as Christian were disappearing, and that therefore the people who were only ever in it for the benefits previously are gone now while the “real christians” remain to represent themselves more accurately.

Now that the dust has settled a little bit, I think we can see where both of these responses were coming from, but hopefully see also how they are quite flawed. Neither is the sky falling, nor is the decline a good thing. Whatever the reason for it, it is not like we as a church have intentionally ceded power in society, and it would probably be good if we found a way to gain have some control over whether or not it will happen more or again.

We need to look seriously at the services and benefits we have stopped providing. There was a time when Christianity was nearly universal in the western world. During that same period, the religiously devout were only about as common as they are now, but the church was at the forefront of scientific discovery and patronage, Services were a key social venue for those that came, and church property and staff provided measurable civic benefit giving towns things they needed and would otherwise be without.

Church used to be one of the most exciting parts of the average person’s week. It was entertainment. Good stories, good music, at a time when neither of those things were readily available at home. Spiritual leaders used to be among the most educated, and most esteemed people in society. Slowly, we have stopped that, and been snooty about. We now look down on churches that want good preachers and enjoyable services as “giving in to consumer Christianity” as if bad preachers and boring services are holier

In the public sector, we have hitched our wagon to political factions. No longer to we serve the community with all that we have, we now fight against others and among ourselves to ensure that our party wins elections so that the party (whichever it is) can accomplish those things.

We have said stupid things in public, and let our dumbest voices become loudest. We have not done a good job or helping one another within the Christian community to do better. We have developed a PR problem for ourselves.

We should to start to steer the ship our of this. Denial will not help. Neither will overreaction and surrender.

What will is a commitment to enter the next generation with a focus on good ministry and Christian practice. It will take creative solutions, for new innovations of ways we can continue to bless the people around us. Music is not unique anymore, What is? It will take brutal honesty with ourselves, and work to acknowledge our own mistakes and correct them, as well as address the damage those mistakes have caused. It will take nuance, and detail, and willingness to think beyond bumper stickers or binary allegiances. It will take faith that means more than belief, and reaches to include trustworthiness. Faithfullness.

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Written by RyanGaffney

January 29, 2016 at 3:41 pm

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