Carol Howard Merritt wrote a great piece addressing shifts in religious culture. You can read the entire article at The Alban Institute's site. I particularly resonated with this section:
I cannot remember a time when the church was the hub of society and life. I was born in the 1970s, part of Generation X. I never lived in a church-centered world. When older members of my congregation tell me about it, I can imagine what it might have been like, just as I can envision a time when people went to church three times a week. But I have never lived in that reality. I’ve always been in a culture where church was a place my friends visited on Christmas Eve—and now even that tradition is beginning to fade. I grew up in the midst of church news filled with clergy affairs, prostitution, and pedophilia. Throughout most of my ministry, I have worked in the shadow of these dark wounds of Christianity, laboring in a world in which the church is renowned for its sex scandals and conservative politics, a world in which people proclaim, “Religion poisons everything.”
This is the culture I know. And this, strangely, is the place I feel most comfortable. It is not that I am happy about our current circumstances but simply that I have not experienced anything else. When I introduce myself as a pastor at parties or neighborhood gatherings, I encounter little awe or respect. Instead, I am met with a ravenous curiosity, as if people did not even realize it was still possible to make that career choice.
Much of her focus is placed on the ethos of urban (shrinking, established) and suburban (growing, young) contexts. She describes Millennial culture as wanting "meaningful worship, an empowered lay leadership, and a spirituality that leads to action...the very things that many denominational churches have been cultivating for decades." As one who serves a church in the great in between - neither near the urban center or on the outskirts of town - I wonder what the future holds. We don't have the allure of a revitalized downtown that's close to businesses, concert halls, sports arenas, and funky loft apartments. On the other hand, our neighborhood is land-locked and removed from the shiny new schools, homes, and shopping campuses that still attract young families en masse.
If nothing else, Merritt's excellent article is a reminder that we are called to be better connected to the people around us and discern how God is calling us to act relationally with the people in our neighborhood.
What creative and redeeming work is God doing through your faith community?