To the Editor:
While many folks certainly are still going to church, most of the mainline denominations today are struggling.
The membership numbers continue to dwindle, and the average age of the folks showing up for worship on Sunday morning continues to increase. Why is this happening?
Well, I am sure there are numerous factors playing in, such as a major cultural changes in the world, the church’s role in society, people’s busy lives and so forth, but I think there are a couple of more prevalent reasons:
No. 1, church is for the most part no longer relevant in aiding people in building meaningful spiritual relationships with God on a personal as well as communal level. Secondly; many people who don’t go to church don’t think they are “good enough” to come to church.
For the most part, I think the church has itself to blame for this. We have not been doing well in changing as the world around us has been changing.
I am not saying that we should throw everything old away and re-invent what it means to be Christian.
No, the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will at all times be the ultimate expression of God’s love for all; but many of our faith communities are not terribly good at expressing that in ways that unchurched people can relate to.
So many churches have become like membership clubs where the congregation exists for its own sake.
To be an accepted member you have to look like, act like, dress like, talk like, follow the same doctrine like and worship like the folks inside the “club house,” if you will, or church building.
People who see things differently, or look different, or live a different life style, or perhaps are still searching for a meaningful way to connect with God, are often judged by Christians, verbally or silently as not “worthy” until they conform to the established ways of the faith community.
I don’t think this has been very helpful in bringing people closer to God. It has certainly not been helpful in bringing people to church! And I am not so sure this is all that faithful in what we are supposed to be about.
It seems to me that Jesus was rather busy hanging out with sinners and outcasts, instead of the ones who saw themselves as “righteous.”
It seems to me that Jesus called us to be out there among people to tell them about the Good News.
It seems to me that Jesus called for us to care for the sick, poor and the hungry, rather than fighting over sexuality, how much water to use in baptism, what hymns to sing, or how we are to be dressed for worship.
I think most people are deep down searching for a meaningful, personal relationship with God in their lives, and unless we can walk with folks on their faith journey in ways that are non-judgmental and meaningful to them, I don’t think we are being faithful to what we are called to be as the church.
For church to again be relevant in peoples’ lives, we need to proclaim and live the love and forgiveness that Jesus came to share with the entire world, recognizing that every human being, including ourselves, is a sinner yet also a beloved child of God.
Rev. Tormod Svensson
St. John’s Lutheran Church