How sales are made
[ or, how a different kind of church is built ]
How sales are made
[ or, how a different kind of church is built ]
A loyal dog whose owner died late last year has apparently been showing up for Mass every day for the last two months at the church where the funeral was held.
Tommy, a 7-year-old German shepherd, used to accompany his owner, Maria Margherita Lochi, to services at Santa Maria Assunta church in San Donaci, Italy, according to the Daily Mail, and was allowed to sit at her feet.
After Lochi died, the dog “joined mourners at her funeral service” according to locals and “followed after Maria’s coffin” as it was carried into the church.
Tommy, a stray who was adopted by Lochi, has been showing up “when the bell rings out to mark the beginning of services” ever since.
“He’s there every time I celebrate mass and is very well behaved,” Father Donato Panna told the paper. “He doesn’t make a sound.”
None of the other parishioners has complained, Panna said, and villagers give the dog food and water and allow him to sleep nearby.
“I’ve not heard one bark from him in all the time he has been coming in,” Panna added. “He waits patiently by the side of the altar and just sits there quietly. I didn’t have the heart to throw him out—I’ve just recently lost my own dog, so I leave him there until Mass finishes and then I let him out.”
Ask any group in your church: “Why do people not come to worship? What keeps people away from church?” You might hear:
• “We need a better youth program.”
• “We have to have a different style of worship service.”
• “We need to advertise.”
• “If only we had a nursery for young children.”
The rallying cries will begin. Usually they center around programs. If the church could just provide better programs, or more programs, people would begin to come back to church. Occasionally you will hear about preferences — about the time or worship style. Then there is the question of staff: those who think that if the right person were pastor, director of Christian education or worship director, people would come flooding through the doors.
These are the answers that church people give when they try to figure out why people don’t go to church. Friends, we could not be more wrong.
I recently spent a week using social media to “listen” to people who do not go to church — listening to their explanations for why they stay away. I didn’t argue with them. I didn’t defend the church. I just listened. And what I heard broke my heart.
The No. 1 thing that keeps people away from the church is the people who are in the church.
Outside of our doors, there is a multitude of people who have been hurt by people in the church. They have been judged for not looking the way we wanted them to look. They have been judged for making mistakes and for choosing to live lives that look different from ours. They have heard the people who worship on Sunday say hateful things on Monday. They have witnessed the followers of the Prince of Peace spreading malicious gossip against their “brothers and sisters.”
It’s not that people outside the church have low expectations of Christians. It’s the opposite. They expect us to actually live out the things we proclaim on Sunday. They expect us to love our neighbor, care for the least of these and love our enemies.
They have high expectations for us, and we have disappointed them.
- David Hansen, “Why don’t people come to church? A Texas pastor asked them”
|—||Jodi Houge, “Pastors: It Ought Not Suck”|
The Spanish courtyard outside our worship space has been turned into an Advent Waiting Room for the next 4 weeks, a sign on the door simply saying “Please wait to be called”.
Little white lights glow upon the bushes and trees that dot the courtyard; parishioners gather around pots of warm cider and children chase each other, perhaps slightly rowdier than if their parents were not engaged in conversation.
The church bell is soon rung by a spirited 5 year old girl, barely able to pull down the old rope enough to get the bell to move and we all begin singing “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” as the 130 of us enter the Episcopal parish hall that has been our church home for over 18 months now.
The last of those to enter carry with them the candles from outside and place them on one of four ladders in each corner of the room. A sign saying “hope” hangs from the first ladder, ones saying “joy”, “love” and “peace” on the others.
After the call to worship, confession and absolution, and the opening hymn, a 6 year old boy proudly and expertly lights the first Advent candle and we speak of waiting, anticipation and hope.
- Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Creating Memories in an Advent Waiting Room”
I love what you said, “I’m not responsible for what people believe … but I am responsible for what they hear.” So yes, all are welcome, but not everything goes. You’re very clear about what you believe.
Nadia: Right. If somebody came up to me and said, “It makes me really uncomfortable that you talk about Jesus like he’s God,” I’d say, “Well that’s kind of a non-negotiable.” I have a very orthodox Lutheran theological perspective. Now, if you asked all my parishioners how many of them have an orthodox theological perspective, I’m not sure what the percentage would be. But they don’t want me to become more like them. They’re not asking that of me, and I’m not asking that of them. But I’m allowed to hold an office where I make a very particular type of proclamation.
That seems to be a critique of the progressive church – that it’s getting watered down to meet the “all are welcome” philosophy.
Nadia: That’s certainly my critique.
Brian: In the book I just wrote, I talk about how we have two unacceptable options in Christianity right now. We have a strong Christian identity that’s hostile and filled with a lot of hostility, and then we have a weak Christianity that’s very tolerant. But what people are looking for is a strong Christian identity that is more than tolerant, it’s benevolent. So it’s not watering things down on the one side, but nor is it holding our beliefs like a weapon on the other side. Someone said to me recently, “when our choices are between the blind leading the blind and the bland leading the bland, we need a better option.”
Nadia: All I have to talk about is my own community, but I do also think that there are a lot of people who understand that “the emperor has no clothes,” and are very aware of that in terms of what’s happening in the economy, the educational system, consumerism, society in general. And so they’re a bit suspicious of institutions and presumed authority. But one thing that’s different about House is that while its very traditional, we say we’re “anti-excellence, pro-participation”… somebody can walk into my church and they don’t have to be deemed worthy or skilled enough to read the gospel during the liturgy. Anybody can walk in and choose that job off the table to do it. So people are actually leading liturgy from within the community. They’re a community of producers, not consumers. So if you look at society and realize certain things have some cracks in them, there’s a whole population out there – especially young adults – who really see the cracks.
And people are “content creators” in a way they never were before. If then they step into a church and are no longer in any way a content creator, but only a consumer, then why in the world would that work when in every other aspect of their lives there is so much interaction?
Everyone’s talking about the latest Pew Forum Report which came out earlier this week, showing a 25% rise over the last five years of those who identify as “religiously unaffiliated.” One in five Americans now claim “none” as a religion. And perhaps most interesting is that of those religiously unaffiliated, 68% say they believe in God, but 88% are not looking for religion. What is your reaction to these numbers? What does it mean for the future of Christianity? How are we doing?
Brian: Well, my first reaction is that we’re moving still closer to a tipping point, and the tipping point will either be toward a revitalized fresh expression of Christian faith or increasingly ghetto-ized, insular expressions of Christian faith. I also think this is just more data about how our religious leaders have not been listening for decades. Or only listening to the insiders. And as more and more people are on the outside, it behooves us to start listening. If all that religious leaders have to do to is listen to the complaints of their current attenders, they will be obsessed with…
Nadia: Carpet color…
Brian: …carpet color and organ music and the sexual habits of people, and they will miss the momumental concerns of the people on the outside, like, are we going to kill each other? What are we going to do about a fragile planet? Who’s going to stand up for the 99%?
|—||Julie, “A Better Story”|
Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear … Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now.