Finke and Stark, The Churching of America, 282-283
I am not sure I agree with this. But it makes me think about how I want to lead a church, and that makes it worthwhile reading.
We can’t be everything to everyone. But we will be something to everyone. We can choose to live in the generosity of God’s love or in the poverty of our limitations, and it matters what we choose.
So what if you can’t go out to coffee with her every week?
Go once. Listen. Ask questions.
Maybe you won’t end up sharing your deepest, darkest secrets with that couple in the lobby, but ask them about their kids. Remember their names. Write them down if you have to.
Look at the prom photos of her grandkids that she carries in her purse. Ask about his job and really listen when he talks about it. These small moments matter too.
In the end, there is a difference between nice and kind, and more and more I am convinced that “community” is not formed by telling everything to everybody but by these simple, strong threads of love.
And it’s both: we are limited, and we are not.
We are not Lego blocks, plastic and immovable. We give the last crust we have and trust God to make it enough.
We grow. We expand. We choose to take each other in.
Because churches with massive overhead invested in things like church buildings, denominational infrastructures, functional church organizational models (think: a baptized version of General Motors’ organizational structure, complete with a board of directors, departments, departmental committees, etc.) are awakening to the fact that the generations that are supposed to be taking the institutional baton are showing very little interest in grabbing for it.
I am a staunch Democrat and a devout, if terrible, Christian. What this means is that I am socially and fiscally liberal, an old style bleeding heart liberal, who loves Jesus and tries to be His faithful servant, supports gun control, abortion rights and tries to love everyone as a brother or sister.
Some days go better than others. Like many people, I am equal proportions of narcissism and low self-esteem, so every now and then, on festive occasions, I get wrapped up in my own petty distractions, obsessions and needs. But as much as possible, I try to help take care of the poor, the aged, the hungry and scared. I get to keep starting over.
That’s what being a Christian means to me. There is, in truth, very little snake-handling involved. Still, it can be quite embarrassing: When non-specific spiritual people—let’s call them the Nons—hear the word “Christian,” they think of public Christians. Upon hearing that you are a Believer, they instantly think of stages full of Christians on TV, waving their arms like palm fronds in a hurricane. Now, I mean no offense if you frequently appear on the stages of televangelists, fronding for the Lord. I know that is not a real word, but it should be.
When Nons hear the word “Christian,” they do not instantly think Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Abraham Lincoln or other profound and visionary heroes. They think Jerry Falwell, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, people who seem close to hysteria in their convictions. They think Jim Bakker and Ted Nugent, who asked his audience, in an editorial, whether the country would have been better off if the South had won the Civil War.
I don’t want to get distracted right now by complex political controversy, but, uh: no.
Coffee with Jesus — “I Give Up”
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”