By Phil Hart
Ohio Conference Minister
Why is interest in being part of a local church declining? I am certainly not going to come up with a comprehensive answer here, but I do want to suggest some “food for thought.”
Back in the 1940s-1950s, when the church as we know it was in its heyday, people were largely organized in families and communities in ways different than today. In that time, church was central in the role of maintaining community, caring for each other and providing insights and explanations of the world. Often, clergy were seen as experts, not only in faith but in all matters of life.
Fast forward to today. The rise of technology has made it easier to travel, communicate and gain information. There are a lot more options for people to get answers. Ideas and advice are more accessible to all of us, and there are even many more ways that people can “do God’s work.” By going online, you can save whales, contribute trees to the rainforest, buy goats for needy families, or help eliminate blinding trachoma in Mali or Niger.
This change is significant and we should be thinking about what it means to our local church. We went from being one of the only “games in town” to being in competition with many other good people and organizations. It is not helpful for us to turn our frustration towards people who find other ways to do what we would all consider to be “Godly things.” What we need to do is think about what it means to be the Church in this time and place. The UCC Constitution affirms “the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God.”
It’s not going to do any good sitting in our pews and growling at the world. We need deep conversations and churches that are willing to experiment with what might help us “make this faith,” not only our own, but the faith of our friends, coworkers, children and grandchildren.
How do these changes impact your local community? What more do we need to learn in order to deal with these changes? What could you experiment with in your local community to help us all learn?