Christianity After Religion: Diana Butler Bass’s new book is captivating…in a disturbing way. I’ve been preaching at churches this spring and summer about the changing landscape of religion in our country. Diana’s book is one more among a growing number of authors who are describing the look of this landscape.
Most are able to describe. In the observations and research we have heard the language of the ‘mainline churches’ being ‘sidelined’. We have heard of the death of denominations. We have heard of the ‘spiritual but not religious’. And we have clearly heard the statistics of the decline of membership and money. Few can prescribe a clear way forward.
It is not unlike the wilderness wanderings that is such a core metaphor of our faith from the Exodus to the birthing of Christianity to the dark night of the soul. And that may be its deepest gift. For decades, church growth has been about prescriptions; some saving clear way forward. Take this strategy and you will have more people in your pews and pledges in your plate. Some of them worked. All of them had some merit and value. Few of them lasted. They did not integrate the lesson of the wilderness.
The greatest value of the wilderness is stripping us of the illusion that we can control the outcome. It takes away the delusion that we can maintain the church we love as we have come to love it by our efforts. It takes away the arrogance of thinking we can change the church into what it needs to be. We can’t. The Bible tells me so. Before we can build the church, before we can make it relevant to the community in the changing landscape, we have to let go of the church we want to build and the relevance we want to have. Let go and Let God. Walk humbly. Seek first the realm of God. Fundamental ancient wisdom which is neither descriptive nor prescriptive.
I have no fear that the Body of Christ will die. It did that once. And the Resurrection reminds us that the power of God’s Spirit is unquenchable. I don’t know about all our churches. But I have hope. In the last couple years, I have seen an anxiety and longing (and in some cases a desperation) in our churches that turned many of them humbly to God. They have discerned (often in the form of prayerful experimentation) new ways to authentically and faithfully connect with the hunger of the souls in their pews, neighborhoods and communities; new ways of being and doing. Many aren’t there yet, but a growing number are experiencing and observing a new vibrancy in their worship and outreach. The soul of the church and the souls within these churches are coming alive.
Via upcoming blog posts and newsletters, you will find stories and resources and programs that will help navigate the wilderness.
Here are some to consider:
- Diana Butler Bass is coming to Vermont next spring. Keep an eye on the Vermont Conference website for information and registration.
- The Transition-Sized Church workshop: Saturday, October 13, 2012, from 9 – 3. Many churches find they plateau between 90 and 130 in worship. They are in between church sizes and unable to move forward. This workshop will help churches deal with all the realities, strategies and tactics it takes to grow beyond this awkward size and to grow in ministry and mission. Learn more here.
- Paul Nickerson’s blog: this is a great resource for thinking and conversation and revitalizing. Paul writes: “I wanted to let you know that I have started a church vitality blog and the address is http://www.nickersoncoaching.tumblr.com. Please feel free to read it, comment and share it with others in your congregation. May God continue to bless your ministry as you share the Good News.”
- Super Saturday: full of resources, networking, ideas and best practices. Read all about it and register on our website.
- And there are more helpful resources available through our national website. Explore them here.
Don Remick is Bridge Conference Minister.