I was going through my mail a few days ago and came across a little postcard from my former church informing me that weekly small groups were forming and I should sign up to be part of the community and such.
I rolled my eyes. Why? Because as I just mentioned, this is my former church. I left three years ago. Also, it was addressed to "Miss Alisha Flemming". If you look over to the right, you'll see that my name is "Mrs. Alisha De Freitas". Okay, not the "Mrs." part. But, it's been this way for nearly four years now. Before leaving the church, I even informed the office of the change, and I got one of those charity donation tax record forms with my married name. Yet, I'm somehow back to a "Miss" and a "Flemming".
But that's not even the worse part. It's actually the pre-printed "Current Resident or" that really prompted the eyeball motion. Mandee and Kohl's does this, but the church which I called home, where I prayed, cried, sang, learned and worshipped for nearly five years... does this, too?
I imagined if I had moved like I had planned, and this little card had arrived stuck in Current Resident's mail... what impression would it give? Cool little invite or impersonal promotional junk mail? Who knows.
It got me thinking of an article I read at the Episcopal Cafe last week which sought to answer why those who church, do.
A recent NPR story about Americans’ widespread claim that they believe in God but not “institutional religion” has left me feeling impatient (read it here) and I’m trying to tease out why. Part of it is that this is just more of the same discussion that we’re having within the church about what needs to change to attract the next generation -- too often I think it goes to “how do we get more people to come to church?” i.e. it remains about institutional survival. Further, I’m starting to think that when we listen to those who are offering critiques of the church from the “spiritual but not religious” perspective, we are listening to at least two different streams of thought -- both important, but worth distinguishing because they’re different audiences for our witness, if we decide that witnessing to the gospel is ultimately going to be what we’re about. On the one hand, there are those who have left the churches they grew up in or attended for many years because they are disillusioned by the controversies, the fighting, the focus on institutional politics rather than on God. Those are the people who say, rightly, that they are not hearing in church the transformative gospel that Jesus proclaimed, the Gospel that calls us to change and grow for the sake of a broken world. They can say that because at one time or another they did hear that gospel, probably in church -- but they now see churches that seem to have lost their way.
On the other hand, there are the Seekers and the unchurched, people who were not raised in any religion and who are curious about what Christianity is all about. Some of these folks wander into churches and encounter the gospel in something they hear, or in the experience of worship -- but many others I’ve talked to have been just puzzled: they have basic questions about why we do what we do, why we use the words that we do, and often no place to take those questions. I’m wondering how many of us have a good answer, if someone who is disillusioned, or unchurched or puzzled by religion asks us: “What’s the point? Why Church at all? (I should note that a young person, Jacob Nez, has already opened this discussion on the Café with his “Why are Youth in Church” - read it here: so that gives me courage to pose the question positively for all of us).
Seekers... seekers... seekers... Augh. I've come to loathe that word as it seems far too many churches have, for the past decade, moved from being "Seeker-sensitive" to "Seeker-driven". So they push members to invite their families, neighbors, the mailman, whoever to church as if they are salespeople pushing Amway. They start special Saturday night or Sunday evening services that aren't "churchy" complete with jeans-wearing hipster pastors and the now standard rock group playing contemporary Christian music. They open coffee bars and bookstores in their lobbies that are full of modern art but no crosses. Their ministries have one word names like "Eklesia", "Petros" or "Pneuma". They are the post-post modern churches.*
And yet they are finding they can't hold on to members much longer than the traditional mainline groups. More and more people are happy to be psuedo-spiritual but definitely not religious.
So, I open the floor to those who regularly attend church. By regularly, I don't mean necessarily every single week, but let's say, at least a couple of times a month. Why do you go? What keeps bringing you back? What got you there in the first place? Was it a billboard? A friend? Is your dad a pastor? Are you? Is your church packed on Sundays? Why or why not?
(* Just to clarify, despite my sarcasm, I don't have any objective misgivings about hipster brand churches. I've just learned after attending a few of them, they actually are a type of non-denominational denomination, even when they protest they are not.)