Churchless believers is an unfolding conversation I’m having with some colleagues, neighbors, friends and churches. The more we talk, the more dimensions appear that intrigue me and help me understand and possibly explain some of what is going on in our culture – among churched and churchless people. I’m still questioning the irony but for now, it seems to have value.
In a recent conversation with some of my churchless neighbors, one explained, “At 58 I’m looking for new anchors to keep me stable in the next phase of life. The anchors of my past are not proving as useful for me today. I’m losing respect for and attachment to my church while at the same time I’m drawing closer to God, prayer, Bible study. I’m not sure I understand this but that is my experience now.”
Her comments resonated with others present. As we continued to unpack it, these themes unfolded. As I reflect on them, and recent articles about the growing population of ‘none’s and dones’ and the emerging trend of returning to a more liturgical and traditional worship, I found myself with these reflections. Gordon’s article brings another group of insights to consider. While I appreciate these, and many other articles, I find the comments on the articles to bring more of a balanced perspective. Most articles, including mine, speak from one person’s perspective. Here are my thoughts. What are yours?
Boomers Searching for Anchors
Boomers, like myself, are entering retirement years and are searching for anchors to guide, inform, bring fulfillment and fruitfulness in the next phase of life. The search is deep, real and it gnaws at some and creates a thirst to explore what is beyond the familiar faith many of us have enjoyed in institutional churches. Many of our churches and denominations are now in a state of decline, disarray, and confusion due to rapid pace of change and pockets of resistance to retain heritage and traditions treasured by many. Many boomers are ‘burned out’ church leaders that have weathered many church and family battles, struggles and challenges. Maybe the disconnects some are finding with yesterday’s church are the incentives for birthing a new expression of church for a 21st century world.
It seems the work of Tickle and Packard might bring some explanation to the hunger and search of the boomers and churchless believers.
“In her book, The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle, suggests that about every five hundred years the church goes through enormous upheaval. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire and under the guidance of Pope Gregory, the church established a plethora of monasteries. In 1054 we experienced the Great Schism, the separation of the Eastern Church from the Western. Five hundred years later in the 16th century, the church was again thrown into a period of confusion and rebirth in the Great Reformation, and today…well what is happening today? The church is changing, and one of the changes we are experiencing in North America is the rise of the Dones.”
Josh Packard’s research also declares,
“Importantly, this is not a generational issue. The challenge facing the church is part of a larger movement that is sweeping across our country. People have lost trust or confidence in social institutions of all types. People aren’t just giving up on the church; they are giving up on local school boards, the federal government, political parties etc. According to Dr. Packard, our faith and participation in social institutions are at an all-time low. This is a significant dimension of his findings.”
– Patrick Vaughn, “Done and Almost Done: Renewing Hope“
Such destabilization of the institution and culture deepens the need for anchors of faith, worship, fulfillment and fruit-bearing opportunities. I’m increasingly convinced that the church of the future will find a way to bring worship, anchoring in faith and fulfillment to a people group or, if they desire, many groups of people. The growing diversity of ethnicities, cultures, traditions, family units, language groups, learning styles, music preferences …. presents challenges to churches, denominations, communities. The diversity will not decrease and for many the insistence to remain homogeneous could prove draining, if not futile.
Maybe our surviving church culture hungers for the homogeneity we once experienced in worship and faith formation. I’m not yet convinced that will be possible for churches that want to reach the growing diverse population. Maybe the anchor we discover, create and ultimately embrace will be a community that seeks to honor diversity, preference and traditions that anchor today in worship and personal and spiritual growth. It seems the church that speaks most to the growing boomer generation will be relational and community focused gatherings fueled by opportunities that bring engagement of faith and connection to others and global and community needs. Boomers seek places to make a difference and bear fruit as we engage and address issues of justice, mercy, hope building and love. The institutional churches that take these issues seriously, and are willing to customize for a growing diversity of needs and preferences, will likely be the churches that thrive beyond the death of the ‘churched culture generation of boomers and builders’ and some of their surviving family members. The New Testament church models will likely become the new norm for most churchless believers and others seeking new anchors. What new anchors do you need? What new anchors can you create that will ensure authentic faith in God and fulfillment and significance for the next phase of your life and the life of church?
Words from a boomer reader of the first article I wrote captures the heart of a churchless believer.
“I’m one of those not “in church,” but still have my faith. I visited my young adult church for the last 2 weeks hoping to find that contentment I felt when my child and I attended, but it wasn’t there. Things changed, I changed. I visit at other churches but don’t feel like I fit in and yet Jesus feels the same to me inside. I don’t really like the mega churches either but miss the fellowship of “friends” you sit with that you know feel the same as you do. Am I searching for the impossible? But yet isn’t that what Jesus wants? For us to search and reach for him?”
The next article in this series will be “Churchless Believers: A Fresh Path for Engaging Inactives”.
Join me for a free conference call around this topic September 30, 2015 4pm ET. Email me for call information [email protected] or watch my facebook page. Join the dialogue.