Perhaps the larger church, as we struggle with why our overall participation is waning, could follow the same advice.
Why aren’t young people coming like they used to? In all our collective hand-wringing, perhaps the best answer is one we haven’t considered: It’s simply not about us.
Perhaps it has nothing to do with how relevant we are, what style of worship we use, how hypocritical we might seem, or anything that has to do with us and the way we do things. Perhaps it has everything to do with how the world beyond the church has changed, and not necessarily for the worse.
Instead, let us be honest about the fact that the church is not for everyone. Some folks are better off the day they walk out our doors and never come back. In today’s fast-paced, high-tech, postmodern, and globalized culture, we are merely one among many options that are out there for people to find fellowship and spiritual connection, and it’s time we get real about the fact that we no longer hold a monopoly. If we expect to return to 1955 levels of membership, and then look inward for explanations when we don’t achieve them, we are destined for disappointment, disillusionment, and defeatism.
Perhaps, then, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up because the world has changed and so has our place in it. Perhaps we should just remain true to our faith and our traditions, interpreting them for new generations with new ideas and practices the best we can.
As a young pastor, it took me several difficult years of self-doubt and second guessing before I realized that Sunday attendance was not a function of the quality of work I was doing. It was more a reflection of the changing times. My role was to be adaptive, and to shape the ministry of the church in such a way to nourish those whom we could reach. The same principles apply to the larger church.
So the next time we are tempted to get down about slumping statistics, let us remember that sage advice. “It’s not about us.” And let us witness to the love and grace of Christ with a little more joy, and a little less despair.