I shared with the Board recently how some of the sociological changes that are taking place all across our country are impacting the church and other organizations throughout our communities and how we have to be aware of those changes and deal with them.
Gallup polls reveal that while religious participation is on the rise, Americans are less likely to identify with a particular religious group. People simply do not belong to churches the way they once did. Sociologists are tagging that in recent years the behavior of people has changed dramatically in all kinds of ways. People’s interest in joining clubs, churches and groups are more fluid than in the past fifty years. People are developing “loose connections” these days. At a time when many churches face declining membership, they must also grapple with the reality that even when people do come they do so with different expectations of what coming to church means.
In the past people saw and practiced the benefits of being more closely connected than they do today. The last major growth period for churches was during the baby boom years following World War II. All kinds of voluntary organizations flourished during those post war years but not since. Churches, clubs and groups of a voluntary nature are struggling with fewer new people and harder and harder to attract young people.
The reality is that people come with fewer connections than they did in years past. We can’t change the bigger picture of the world around us. We have little influence upon the greater sociological changes taking place in our society. We have little influence upon the sociological makeup of our communities. However, we do have influence over how we respond to those changes and how we manage to thrive and grow in a period of history when thriving and growing is more and more challenging.
How do we go about welcoming people who are ambivalent about a belonging to a church? How do we identify and measure the best metrics for measuring how we are doing and what is important? These are the kind of questions we have to ask. How do we encourage each other to understand the importance of inviting others to come and experience what we already know is a wonderful, thriving, loving and blessed community? How do we pay attention to the people who come and encourage them to stay once they come? One of the keys is that we want to know and connect with what people are looking for, what they need, and what they want. It can’t and it won’t happen automatically anymore. We have to be committed, we have to be dedicated, and we have to be smart in bringing people to the church, in reaching out to them and to engaging them in genuine ministry.