Guest Outpost blog by Benjamin Kane
“People vote with their feet,” a friend said to me recently. This is why every Sunday as I ascend the steps into the chancel and settle into my spot behind the pulpit, I take a deep breath and pause as I look out at the congregation. People have asked what I’m doing and I tell them I’m taking attendance.
I’m not taking roll so I can congratulate those who have perfect attendance or always arrive on time; instead, I’m trying to pay attention to who isn’t sitting in the pews. As the church transforms into a new iteration of God’s choosing, we have to adjust to new patterns. One of those is what constitutes regular attendance. Different studies reveal different numbers, but the general consensus is that attending church twice a month is the new norm for being a regular attendee.
Sure, some of our members will always be present whenever the doors are open; but most will fall into the new normal of two Sundays a month. So how are we supposed to be the church for folks who only come half the time?
Most of us could agree that whenever we read a statistic about church attendance our first thought is, “What can we do to reverse the trend and get people back into the pews?” I’d like to challenge that notion and say that it’s a useless question.
Instead, I’d argue that being the church in the 21st century means being the church we’ve always been. People need consistency – and the rituals of our worship offer that. The rhetoric around the church is that we have to do something new and different because the old way isn’t working. I challenge that and say that our consistency in proclaiming that Jesus Christ is our Risen Lord through our worship, pastoral care, outreach and education is something we don’t need to change. What does need to change is how we proclaim Christ through our ministries, programs and worship.
Statistics on the changing dynamics of church attendance offer the church opportunities to be the church in a new way. I realize I’m not offering any game-changing news here; my hope is to invite folks to see the opportunities before us. These opportunities come through our willingness to ask questions about who we are and what God is calling us to do.
Are we willing to ask new questions given the realities of the changing landscape of attendance? Are we willing to ask whether worship can be at the same time each week but with new elements added or others eliminated? Yes, we see Christian education as a hallmark of the church, but does it have to be done in the same way at the same time it’s always been? And is it time we looked to see where the Spirit is leading us into new territory with our mission and outreach?
These questions are challenges to all involved in life of the church. That’s good news because all of us are needed to be the church. As we journey further into the 21st century we’re been asked to reframe who we are and how we function as the church. I see this as an invitation from God. That’s why each Sunday I pay attention to who isn’t present because I know they represent God’s invitation to doing church differently. Where in your community are you feeling God’s invitations to do church differently?
BENJAMIN E.E. KANE serves as pastor of Howard Memorial Presbyterian Church in Tarboro, North Carolina, a.k.a. “the crossroads of western civilization.” His wife, daughter (and soon-to-be second child), extended family and friends keep him grounded by reminding him he’s loved, but isn’t quite as cool and funny as he thinks he is. He blogs at Rearing Kane and tweets at @revbkane13.