According to some researchers, it may be that almost 40% of Americans are now 'churchless', a title used by David Kinnaman in his new book describing the current practice (or the lack thereof) of the Christian faith in our country. Of those 40%, about a quarter of them are atheists and agnostics, and another quarter are other religious backgrounds, but not attending or affiliated with their faith traditions. But about 16% (of the 40%) are committed Christians who do not attend anywhere, and an additional number identify as Christian, but it is unclear what that identifications means to their daily lives. What does this decline mean for us, those who still are invested in our traditional church structures? Does it mean that each new generation will inevitably find us less and less relevant, or does it mean that the church is utterly unwilling to adapt to this new religious context?
You may say, it obviously means both, but we don't think each new generation (or even the present generations) are hopelessly lost to us. Not if we grow leaders willing to engage people where they are. This will inevitably mean that we must release our white knuckle grasp on our own historical practices and perspectives. Leaders of a church for tomorrow must be trained in the ability to separate from our past in a way that reclaims and reformulates our rootedness in Christ.
One friend said, "I talk to God more, but go to church less. My spiritual life is actually healthier than when I was as a church goer. I have a group of friends that are spiritual seekers, and it's a major bond for us." Another said that she'd really like to go to church again, but can't find a place that really speaks to her anymore. "Even when I find a preacher I enjoy hearing, I can't seem to find a community there of like minded people." As students of the early church we know that the deepest part of their transformative joy came not in their own 'salvation', but in the sharing of their experience and insight with others. "When we share something we like with people we like, it creates a bond, and this is especially meaningful to Gen Y", says Sarah Sladek, in the 10/09/12 online article Why Gen Y Won't Buy What You're Selling.
So let's be clear - they aren't buying our hymnody, our liturgies, our prayer circles and our Bible studies. They listen to TED talks and other inspiring messages, so maybe we can retain that medium, but only if we aim for that quality. But we clearly have to revamp worship for it to be any kind of entry point. What appeals to the new churchless are great music, and experiences which elicit emotion (not in a maudlin way) or humor, and facilitate human connections. Does any of that describe your worship services? If not, how could you get there? What can you stop doing in order to do more of what matters?