Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Same Old, Same Old

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to get unchurched people into church. I spend time thinking about this - but rarely do I ask unchurched people about what it would take to get them into the church. Perhaps I don't ask because I am afraid of the answer - I am afraid that their answer will make so much sense and yet seem impossible to accommodate.

Following is an email I received yesterday from someone who does not believe in God but who visits Mount Vernon Place often. I asked for permission to share these thoughts because I think they have a lot to teach us.

Rev. Donna,

The problem with church is that it is boring and out of touch. This is partly the reason why I don't like to show up on time and certainly not every Sunday. Here is the procedure at every church that I go to:

1. Assemble
2. Stand for some singing
3. Sit down
4. Listen to the "verse of the week"
5. Stand up
6. More singing
7. Sit down
8. Listen to the weekly interpretation of the verse. Reminds me of Andy Rooney in 60 minutes
9. Stand up
10. Sing some more
11. Sit down
12. Prayer for people in need
13. Stand up.
14. More singing and verse reading.
15. Sit down.
16. Communion (depending on what Sunday it is)
17. Stand up
18. More singing
19. Adjournment

As long as I have been in church, there has never been any discussion of the tenants of faith. You must already be a believer to be in church. Also, never anything to be excited about. I show up every so often because of the people and even then I really don't like to be a part of the entire service.

Why should I be on time or even show up?

I am in agreement that you need some of the above but if you want more involvement in the church break down the above structure. Have open discussion or an activity during actual service instead of the above. Instead of just pure volunteerism there should be a goal (such as picking one school to fully transform or building one person's house, etc, etc.) That way I am not only working on something greater than myself but I am also achieving something beyond just doing my civic duty for the week.

Since you have a lot of old blood, this does not have a good chance of happening. The people that come regularly like procedure so it is hard to get them to try something new. We are told to start side committees that prove meaningless and otherwise pushed to the side.

Most of the time the committees do not amount to anything truly significant.

You want a significant portion of my time, energy, and various other resources? Change the above.

Just my two cents.

My questions after reading this email are:

When are we going to start listening to statements like this one?

How far are we willing to go - what are we willing to let go of - in order to get people like this into our worship services and ministries?

Do we have the passion that we see in the New Testament, particularly the writings of Paul, who asks us to do whatever we can to get people who are on the outside to the inside of our faith?

And, you who are reading this blog - is your church like the one described below or what have you done to make changes?


Steven and Elizabeth Schindler said...

I would say our church is on the way to making some of these changes, if we aren't totally there yet. For one thing, our worship order changes every week, and has different elements (sometimes quotes from famous Christian thinkers, sometimes a dance piece, etc.) as often as possible - but the main way that we keep things exciting is to get young people involved whenever possible. We have a group of teenagers that like to write and perform raps, and they've been doing it about every other month for the congregation - it's incredibly powerful for the "old blood" to learn something new about worship and/or faith from a rapping teenager...

Kristen said...

Wow, Donna.
What an honest letter.
My church is like yours, very much, in that it has been in decline, and the members who are attending are older and well-established in the church itself.
I wonder about the writer of the letter, because there is such power in the liturgy when one is open to receiving how the Spirit uses it to touch and form us. I wonder if some openness to an encounter with God is required before one can appreciate the fullness of what we're doing when we're "singing a song," or rather praying through music, or when we're "reading the verse of the day", or rather receiving God's holy word. It seems that the people we're trying to attract into our churches are not ones like the person who wrote the letter--who has no belief in God at all, but rather seekers who are open to the divine and want to experience it in a powerful way in a worship setting designed for that encounter, which I know you are faithful to provide.
Maybe I rambled, but those are just my thoughts.