a provocative blog entry by Marcia Myers, who studied in the M.Div. program at Princeton Seminary the same time I did, and now serves the PC(USA) as director of the Office of Vocation.
Reflecting on the growing national dialogue in our denomination about the need for Presbyterians to think outside the box with respect to ways of growing the church - part of which is the much-heralded 1001 New Worshiping Communities challenge - Marcia encourages local congregations not only to reach out, but to move out.
Yes, move out. Right into the places in our local communities where religiously unaffiliated people gather.
"If you build it, they will come" may have worked for Kevin Costner in the film, Field of Dreams, but that's about the only place it works. Far fewer people these days are looking for a church community with which to affiliate than has ever been true in the past.
They're not going to come to us. We've got to go to them.
That's one of the hardest insights for those of us who lead established churches to wrap our minds around. Most of us grew up in a world in which the church was a respected organization in society. It was natural for us to assume that church membership offers such abundant advantages that a great many neighbors in the larger community think kindly of the church and would be honored to become a part of it.
Dream on. For growing numbers of our neighbors, those days are over. And they're not coming back.
Here's Marcia's response to this new reality:
think about all of the energy and hours we spend in church and on
internal church activities. What would it be like if Presbyterian
leaders – ruling elders, teaching elders, and everyone – were turned
loose to be the church instead of run it? What would it be like if we
invited our neighbors to join us in being church rather than inviting
them to “come to church”? What would it be like if we worshiped in
multiuse crossroads facilities through which people (believers and
non-believers) come and go regularly so that the walls between “church”
and “life” were very porous?"
If she's right about that, the question then becomes: "How on earth do we lead a bunch of tradition-minded church officers to think not in terms of the congregation's glorious past, but rather its beckoning future?"
How, indeed? What do you think?