Sonja's Blog: Crossroads
We are finding ourselves at a crossroads at our church. The traditions that have served us well for years are being challenged, and there is a ever-growing call for renewal of our worship practices (otherwise known as “adding a contemporary service”).
Those who feel strongly have weathered the tide of transition after a long-tenured pastor’s retirement and the upheaval of losing our next lead pastor after a few short years. Being in a constant state of transition, this multitude has been encouraged to be patient, not to push for change during such tumultuous times.
And so the din is rising. Will we ever not be in transition?
My thoughts on the subject of transforming our church go beyond the worship experience to the entirety of how we do or do not look to understand the needs of the “ordinary” people in our immediate community (i.e. not necessarily homeless/jobless, etc) who have needs (parenting/marriage/general life challenges) and how we become a safe, welcoming, nurturing place for to find guidance that then reveals the far-reaching effect God’s grace and a life of faith have in transforming our ordinary lives to the extraordinary that we crave (and expect!) but cannot achieve on our own.
In my opinion, we need to first formalize the process of getting to know new individuals by offering a variety of more intimate gatherings through which they can get to know others in the church (often known as small groups – Bible studies, discussion groups, child-rearing, mothering, marriage … etc.) When a new member joined the church an invitation would be extended to join a group that may be of interest to him/her.
When we welcome new members and then leave them afloat in a sea of new people to somehow find their way, we set ourselves up for failure. Only those who are bound and determined to make this particular church their home will have the fortitude to keep attending events, volunteering and being present until people quit asking “Are you new here?”
That’s not how Jesus did it, and it’s not how we should be doing it either. Jesus went to the people … Jesus turned the conventions of the day on their head and challenged us to a live a life of love by extending ourselves to others.
Second, just like schools have to rethink many of the ways they conduct outreach to parents (i.e. going beyond open houses and parent-teaching conferences) who may have never finished school or have terribly negative associations with “traditional” school outreach, we need to figure out how we become less scary to the individual who has only ever seen church as a place of negativism, hypocrisy, obligation and hurt. Whether those in established religion want to believe it or not, these are some of the reasons young families don’t just NOT go to church but AVOID anything with a religious connotation.
Those same traditions that bring us comfort and peace are representative of a time and place where a hurting soul came to be loved, nurtured and transformed and instead found judgment. By being willing to shed these traditions in favor of a worship experience that is still liturgical, worshipful and gospel-centered but is also in tune with the needs and styles of these individuals, we acknowledge that we are truly a “Christ-Centered Community of Hope and Belonging for ALL.”
By being willing to put words on the screen and sing with guitars and piano, we remove the stigma that only musically-inclined people who appreciate pipe organ and three part harmony attend church. By incorporating dramatic elements that provide real-life examples to make otherwise foreign and difficult concepts relevant and real, we acknowledge that the purpose of a sermon is the message (the GOSPEL centered message) not how it gets to you. By providing moments of intimacy during the worship service (communion in the round, sharing of the peace at the beginning, opportunities for personal connection) we acknowledge that we are a community that cares for and responds to the needs of our members and the world while focusing on God’s message as we worship Him.
The most important thing to understand is this is not an “us” versus “them” discussion, and it can never be. We are called to serve.
Young families not attending church are raising the next generation … do you want to have a say in introducing those children to Christ and shaping their values, or not? Will you turn your backs on them and hold fast to tradition while they drown in a sea of anger and self-doubt or will you “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2 New International Version).