Me: So, why have you decided to hang around? What is it about our church that you find appealing?
Them: Well, it reminds me of the little church that I grew up in back home. It seems comfortable because that was what church was like when I was a kid.
It happens again and again, folks choosing to be a part of our fellowship because it’s familiar, it isn’t too big, and it harkens back to something from their childhood.
And frankly, I’m not sure what to do with that.
On the one hand, I am pleased that we are offering something for those families who need that sense of familiarity and comfort. There is a strong argument to be made that our traditionalism provides meaning for these folks, that they find God in the little old country church house mentality that is part and parcel of who this 130 year congregation is. We have seen repeatedly persons who needed surrogate family (especially young couples) and we have been able to meet that need, offering hospitality and love and acceptance. There is something valuable in being who we are, in offering a sense of “home” in a large urban suburb.
And yet, the fact is that for every person who comes out of a sense of personal familiarity and denominational loyalty, there are probably 5 who have no such background or sense, and who we have no ability to converse with. For every person that is able to draw on their personal history to inform their experience of our church, there are ten whose experiences are informed by television, rock concerts, radio, and all the other stuff in our world that attempts to provide meaning and purpose. For every person who is looking for the little church in the woods there are 20 persons who are totally turned off by traditional expressions of faith, who believe (with good reason) that churches like ours are insular, filled with judgmental, racist, sexist, people who they have little in common with. The fact is that our church has to be transformed into something different in order to have a voice in a diverse community like ours.
And yet, that transformation changes who we are, and alienates those for who God is found in this place.
You see, there is nothing wrong with who we are, and we will probably get five or ten folks a year who end up being a part of this place because who we are is part of who they have been in another place and time in their history.
But honestly, is that what we are supposed to do?
From an institutional perspective, we can’t sustain a vibrant and living ministry focused replicating the church of the 1950’s, ‘60’s, and ‘70’s. From a missional perspective, we fail in sharing God’s love with our community if we are more focused on being a museum of early 20th century practices than on translating those practices and beliefs into the language of the day.
But God continues to be present in those practices. They simply are a different language that is as outdated at the Elizabethan English of the King James Bible. That language my be beautiful and majestic, bringing forth the mystery of God, but is it really helpful if no one can understand it anymore?
“Yeah sis… When I visited the pastor’s church, it reminded me of the church we grew up in…”
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not so sure.