A noticeable and disturbing trend that is beginning to catch the attention of church consultants, coaches and denominational leaders is that believers are losing interest in church. Not only is there an avoidance of church by many unbelievers, there is a growing lack of or inconsistent participation of believers in church leadership, membership and regular attendance in worship and church activities. What does this mean? How might churches respond?
To frame the trend you might check into these noted recognized church consultants and pastors. In 2013, Thom Rainer stated that decreasing frequency of church attendance is the No. 1 reason for church decline.
Will Mancini adds to the conversation.
Carey Nieuwhof, a prominent pastor and visionary leader/consultant, provides some clarity about what this trend means in church life.
In recent experiences with my leadership class we have explored this trend by conducting interviews with others inside and outside the church. This article is another attempt to summarize our discoveries along with the insights, challenges and opportunities they provide.
Church can be so invigorating and sometimes it can be so dull and boring. Today, many churches are trying to compete with each other, and provide a vast array of age group activities and opportunities in hopes of keeping people “active and involved.” Often this position simply makes weary believers that are stressed, more than relieved, by their participation in church. Getting leaders to explore this issue is very disconcerting for some because “if we don’t offer these programs, then our members will go somewhere else!” Leaders living in fear and frustration so often create spaces that drain leaders and generates frustration and minimizes fulfillment.
So what’s a pastor/leader to do? How might churches add value and deepen engagement that is more meaningful and fulfilling that frustrating and futile?
A summary of our leadership class’s discoveries include:
Balance what you value and how you value church participation. Too often what members or attenders value enough to engage in outside or inside the walls of the church are not acknowledged, much less validated, as an expression of church. How can the ushers feel as valued as the teachers? How can those who work with children and youth (inside or in the community) be as recognized and valued as those who teach adults or go on mission?
Consider affinity groups as way of networking and community building. What would be the benefit of grouping people together who live in the same community? Work in the same career/profession? Parents with children? Adults with no immediate family seeking family? Families experiencing adoptions? It seems that the age group clusters that were designed for educational and human development value not only have not worked very effectively but leave a gap in today’s culture. What groupings would serve your church’s mission and provide space and community for those seeking who are seeking mission and community but not necessarily experiencing it now?
Create intergenerational and multi-cultural groups for faith dialogue. Our culture is increasingly multi-cultural. This generation of youth and children only know a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural world. How does your church strengthen and build off of this new reality? For instance, part of our leadership groups self-challenge was to find and cultivate at least three new multi-ethnic personal relationships. As we moved into this we not only found it to be extremely well received, but also widened and deepened our faith conversations as new questions surfaced in these new relationships. Such new realities then informed our worship, music, prayer life and how we experienced community.
Give visibility to transformational results in, through and as church. We have discovered that much of those who disengage from church do so because the transformational indicators and metrics given visibility in church had little meaning or value in daily life experiences. So we are now collecting a variety of transformational indicators that happen through and as church in our family, community and work. Such dialogue and recognition are making us all more observant but also more engaged in the question, “What does a transforming faith look like in a variety of settings?”
Create online forums to continue gathered and scattered church faith experiences and dialogues. Our leadership group, and now our church experiences, involve pre- and post-online dialogue opportunities, as well as online responses during a particular life/church experience. Some call it our “tweet church experiences.” We have found it adds value and engagement if the dialogue prompts deepening of questions, searching of soul experiences, theological or interpersonal, multi-ethnic reflection, as well as opportunities for online and new face to face community gatherings so we can continue to grow together. We have a Facebook page for a variety of events and transformational experiences that provide a safe and hopefully sacred space to sustain engagement and faith conversations
Which of these ideas are you practicing? What are your experiences? Which idea might add some value to your church engagement and faith life experiences?
Part 2 of this column can be read here.