Sorry but I don’t twitter. Not yet anyway.
I do facebook, however and will sometimes use the telephone. There’s also a small brick structure at the foot of my driveway from which I pull rectangular pieces of paper called mail. Oh, and I love email and am grateful my box is small enough to have to delete messages periodically.
I pastor a congregation near downtown Springfield across from a major university. We are a significant voice for traditional Baptist values and distinctives but more than that we aim to engage a community who really doesn’t care a lot for denominational labels. It’s an interesting dynamic, caught between some in the church who care a lot and those outside who don’t care much at all. Still, I’m finding more and more people entering the church who share the latter view.
Just the other day, I was speaking with a student who had a terrible church experience earlier in his life and imagine my lack of surprise when I discovered it had been in a Baptist church. He had come our way in spite of our label when he had heard “we’re not that kind of Baptist.” He had been victimized by unkind words from someone who claimed to be a Christian. This young man knew he needed to belong in a church, and I was grateful that he listened to the counsel of a teacher.
Churches are having a tough time these days. Well, to be honest, churches have been having a tough time these decades. Most denominational statistics indicate the usual markers of attendence and finances for congregations support that premise. For all the statistics and labeling of baby busters, millennials, etc., the short answer is that persons aren’t looking at the church for answers to their spiritual questions like they used to. It’s hard to adjust to that reality and declining influence.
Then there’s this tension to be culturally sensitive to facebook, twitter, and other forms of communication. We’re in a multi-tasking, multi-texting society and what is the church to do with all this ruckus on the internet? I’ve been told that some pastor allow the people to “twitter” or “text” them during the sermon for feedback. I haven’t be able to get to that point, but I suspect there may be some texting going on during the sermon regardless.
Pastors are having a tough time. Many who were seminary trained and prepared to serve a certain kind of congregation find themselves swamped with administration and maintenance related issues (I missed the class about how much money would go to paying the utility bills and keeping a good roof over the church house). The ministry these leaders had been looking for doesn’t exist in many local churches, and sadly many seminary graduates nowadays don’t have serving the local church on their radar. It can be a tough sell.
I don’t go to conferences very often, but one of the most meaningful for me was done by Willow Creek Association and simulcast at a church in the area. So, I was curious to find this article about the declining influence of Willow Creek and Saddleback, the twin towers of evangelical life the latter part of the 20th century. Suddenly the mountains of church life that many of us looked to are sinking just a bit. What does that mean?
I’m still working through that, but have come to the point that nothing stays the same in church life. There’s always the next new information wave coming along and the urge to catch up to it and ride it into the church. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve been told that each church exists in its own culture and to be wary of transplanting what works in one location into another and expect the same results.
And is it assumed that every church is intended to last forever? This article addresses this very issue. Churches are dealing with financial and numerical challenges these days. A friend of mine works in an older FBC church that has been declining for decades, relocated, and is still declining. It’s a tough thing that 80% of churches or more are having to accept. There’s no silver bullet out there to transform our existing churches into booming congregations.
I don’t think we should look for it either. The best thing to reach our culture is to plant new churches with new paradigms. Older, more established congregations must maintain the balance of ministering to its own membership who have been there for decades and providing community for younger people who aren’t always looking for the flashiest or more technologically savvy church. Trends will come and go, but the need to belong remains consistant. Healthy churches have a good mix of ages, educational backgrounds, and social status.
I’m working through Reggie McNeal’s book Practicing Greatness. He said something that I’ve been thinking about this week: “Your best shot at making your best contribution in the world is for you to get better at what you’re already good at. Instead of focusing on weakness, focus on improving your strengths” (89).
That’s where I am right now, and hope to lead our church in that direction and mindset as well. Hope I won’t need too many more ‘apps’ to make that happen. I’m hoping to gain greater clarity on this whole idea of what church is supposed to be like during this Lenten season. I hope you get some clarity and calmness as well.