Demographical Dilemmas

Okay–most of the people who are talking about demographics in regard to mainline church decline are being overly simplistic. And I’m tired of it.

The way the debate is normally framed is this–
Conservative: The mainline churches are declining because they don’t preach the Gospel.
Liberal: The mainline churches aren’t declining because of theology–it’s because of low birth rates and non-mainline immigrants.

There is a small but non-zero amount of truth in both of these positions. What both sides are not taking into account is the current cultural life-cycle. If a family goes to church, a child raised in that family experiences one kind of church for several years. Confirmation happens in most mainline churches in middle school. Many parents make church attendence optional at that point. Teen years happen; rebellion happens, particularly rebellion against the parental world-view including–guess what–parents’ church. This can go many different ways, forms, and degrees. Sometimes it’s attending the parents’ church wearing prominent neo-pagan or satanic symbols. Sometimes it’s going to the “cool” youth group of the church down the street that just happens to not synch with parental theology (Baptist, Catholic, whatever works). Many, of course, just stop going all together. Then college happens. Most college-age folk I know rarely darken a church door in this period. Singelness happens. Ever see a single person come into church? Ever notice how they get treated? People will wonder why they’re there since they don’t have kids. Some parishioners with problematic social skills may come right out and ask…don’t laugh, it’s happened to both M and me before…

It’s not until married life and children that most young Americans really start thinking about church again IMHO. When they do, they’re looking for good stuff for the kids… (Now I know that this is a generalization. I kept going to church all through adolesence and college but then I’m not sure I’m the typical case either. And, I suspect the majority of my readers aren’t that way…But my brother is. Most of my friends in high school and college were.)

The result is, to my mind, that decline has much less to do with birth-rate issues than adolescent/college/young adult retention rates. Is it theology that attracts the young families? I don’t know–but I know that good children’s programs do. If I were trying to start/grow a church right now, I’d promote really good children’s ministries, then use them as a hook to get people in the door, then offer some programs concurrently to get their parents interested… Is this a bit cynical and manipulative? Maybe. But churches are in a competetive game. There are a lot of things competing, not just for people’s money but their most precious commodity–time.

Thoughts?

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About Derek Olsen

I'm a layman within the Episcopal Church with a PhD in New Testament and an interest in most things medieval, monastic, and liturgical. My chief job is keeping up with my priestly wife and our two awesome kids. In addition to that, I earn a living, run the St Bede's Breviary, listen to loud goth/industrial music, and do some stuff for the church. I currently serve as Secretary to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music where I'm also co-chair of the Calendar committee and chair of the Digital Publications committee.
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30 Responses to Demographical Dilemmas

  1. LutherPunk says:

    Derek – Perhaps I am thinking too highly of myself, but I would venture to guess that my offhanded comments during my last rant prompted some of what you wrote above.

    Let me say that the cultural lifecycle is something that our church has adapted to. In the hinterlands of suburbia, we have very few young singles. Most of our membership consists of families with children and retired folks. Knowing that this is our target audience, we play with the hand we have been dealt instead of trying to be all things to all people. This is not to say we wouldn’t love to see single young folks here, but let’s face it, we can’t compete with the fact that a large number of this demographic end up at a community church’s “singles” service to look for Mr. or Ms. Right. And that’s ok. Better a community church than a singles’ bar, I guess.

    However, it is more than just demographics. Though I know we fail, we try and be welcoming and yet not overwhelming. Everyone is greeted at the door, and those folks who don’t appear to be regulars are shown around. We try to make sure our liturgy is “user-friendly” without changing content. When people are greeted after service, newcomers are given a packet by one of the pastor’s with programming information, worship schedules, and special upcoming events. When people express interest, we engage in them in a process that leads to membership, with an emphasis on getting them plugged in to a ministry that they find enjoyable. Many times, this leads to the creation of new ministries.

    Most of all, the pastors and staff work from the maxim, “people don’t interrupt our work…people are our work.” We stay as accessible as possible while still working to maintain proper boundaries. People know when they can find a pastor in the office.

    I am not asserting that we do it right or the best here, but we do strive to create an environment where people know that they are valued. I think that has gone a long way in helping us maintain a sense of congregational health.

    I will say that concurrent programming has been successful for us. For example, we offer Vacation Bible School in the evenings when mom and dad are off of work. They can go drop their kids off in the main hall and then join us for Bible study in a quiet and relaxed atmosphere. Last year we read and discussed The Da Vinci Codes, and had really excellent turn out. The year before that it was the sexuality studies. I haven’t decided on a theme for this year yet, but we are using the same strategy.

    And as much as we hate to admit it, we are competing. There are 6 or 7 churches within one mile of ours. We all have a niche. But I would hope that, even though we all do “it” a little different, we are collectively getting “it” done

  2. Annie says:

    I concur. The Baptists do it very well. And the Catholics have pretty good programs. They GROW their children. It should be the first order of business–provide good programs for the kids. They should be fun, friendly, the Gospel should be preached the way that St. Francis taught. Each child should be found to be special in some way. I have said that if a child walks through the doors of the church they should be embraced by the whole community!

    Teens are another case entirely. Youth groups, contrary to what my church thinks right now, should be a place where TEENAGERS have fun. A safe, drug-free, Christian atmosphere where scripture is the LAST thing that is taught. On the other hand, I do believe that teens enjoy and benifit from doing good works such as helping the poor and sick.

    And, finally, politics are NOT appropriate for children! They should NOT hear it, they should not be brought into it, they should not suffer adult judgements, they should not be shown how hypocritical, how shallow, how poorly we actually walk the Christian walk! Talk about studying the scripture! Sheesh!

    Believe me. I know first hand that when the children go, so go the parents. Why don’t we just KILL the churches?

    A.

  3. Derek the Ænglican says:

    lp, I really like that idea of concurrence. Right now on of the parishes we go are affiliated with does “concurrent”–Sunday school is at the same time as the church services. Nothing pisses me off more than this! You’re *training* children that you *don’t* want them in the liturgy and that’s just WRONG!

    Annie, I don’t know… I absolutely hated youth group as a teen because they never wanted to talk about anything interesting or challenging–it was just feel-good Jesus stuff. It had neither depth nor authenticity and I knew it. Yes it should be fun–and probably also relevant. But Scripture and theology *are* relevant, at least when they’re taught right.

    Teenagers already know how shallow and hypocritical we are; it’s their raison d’etre. I suppose the question is whether we try and cover it up or acknowledge it as a failing.

  4. LutherPunk says:

    Well, like I said, we don’t do it perfectly. We do have a worship service that runs concurrent with Sunday School as well. I really hate it as a practice, but it doesn’t look like it will change.

  5. *Christopher says:

    derek,

    I don’t think I’m a typical case, so I’m not sure if my experience can really add to this discussion.

    I hated youth group and most college groups for that matter; they were inane, happy-clappy, and when I talked, which was rarely, I asked uncomfortable questions or questions that most youth/college leaders are not prepared to answer with regard to theology. Not to mention, I felt the odd man out while everyone else dated or slept with one another; looking back, I felt pretty alone in these settings. (Note to those who lead youth/college groups, be sensitive that some of those sitting in your group are not straight and what you say could do damage or worse.) Being the odd single youth and college student sucked. Being the gay dating college student also sucked. I eventually quit going to Church until I found a great Methodist campus ministry. Before that I had been a daily Masser, but so were several of the young Catholic folk I knew. Again, I realize now that many Catholic young people fall away during this period, and we weren’t typical cases. Many of us were religiously neurotic, self included.

    I agree with you that many graduate, in one form or another, from Church after confirmation, and return when they have children. I’m not sure if this should surprise us, as I’m not sure the pattern is actually completely new.

    When my friend, S, and I led the youth group at an Episcopal parish in Berkeley, we had a lot of fun on outings for skiing, going to the Mission Delores, serving homeless persons, going to movies, camp outs, but we also talked about the Bible a lot, did Lectio, taught how to use the BCP and let our youth lead us in Evening Prayer each week, let them set up a worship space in the youth area, even let them plan and lead the principle Sunday Mass once. I think because we were in our early 20s, we weren’t considered “old” yet.

    I think in looking at reaching out, one has to look at the demographics around the parish. My parish is situated in a largely Latino area and a largely young, single area, not to mention the Castro and shelters. So our demographics are unusual. My parish seems to have a large number of singles, many over 40. The number of families with children is growing, but so are the number of families without children, single lgbt folk, and our complexion is browning. No matter what the demographics, however, be mindful of hospitality. My parish is probably 75-80% lgbt, but our number of younger straight couples is growing. As are families with children. Having a variety of offerings: prayer groups, child care, even singles groups are good for decreasing the likelihood of that “alone” feeling. We also have religious in the community, which I think is helpful in reminding all of us that not all of us are coupled or have children.

    BTW: I hate it when children are removed from the liturgy. As baptized Christians their presence is just as important as the rest of us, and their formation in liturgical worship happens through their participation. One of my most profound memories regarding children and worship is being at an Ukrainian Catholic Divine Liturgy and watching a three-year-old, walk up, kiss the icon, and make the Sign of the Cross.

  6. Lutheran Zephyr says:

    Derek,

    Thanks for your post. Like you, I really like LutherPunk’s suggestion of concurrent ministries. In the churches that I’ve seen – and I’ve seen many – good children’s programming takes place concurrently with adult/parent and youth and other programming.

    Family nights – it was called Wonderful Wednesday at my former congregation in New Jersey – are the way to go. Dinner preceded and followed by music rehersals, Bible studies, fellowship groups, a homework help room, etc. etc. etc.. This created a buzz, an energy at the church that fostered community and provided space and time for faith formation.

    Part of appealing to parents includes providing good children’s programs, but we need to appeal to parents and nonparental adults on their own, too. We can’t grow the church on children – lots of urban churches try to grow their ministry by offering children’s programs. Frankly, we need the investment and commitment of adults (who drive, provide offering dollars, etc.) who will bring their children. Yes, one of their needs is good children’s programming, but it goes beyond that, too . . .

  7. Annie says:

    You know, Derek, I think you are right! When you pointed that out I remembered that last year Father L. at the Catholic school taught some pretty advanced theology to the kids (7th grade). Ike loved it. But then the diocese came back and told him to stick to the feel good stuff. 😦 So, depth must be good. Of course that was religion class and not Sunday school or youth group.

    A.

  8. bls says:

    A parish near me has lots of activities for kids – and schedules lots of Eucharists and either Evening or Morning Prayer every day, too. They also have “Compline for Kids” once a week – which I think is really a great idea. The way to keep people attached, I think, is for them to have grounding in prayer and its good effects from an early age. Then, it sticks, and even if they leave, they’ll come back, because the stuff is in their heads.

    The rector (a woman, BTW) is pretty by-the-book – straight-ahead liturgy, from a moderate Anglo-Catholic perspective. Alternates Rite I and Rite II. It’s a real parish Church, moreso than any other I’ve seen. The people seem close and connected, and I really think it’s the constancy of religious services that does it. The religious stuff is what churches are about, really, and what it should do really well. Other things you can find elsewhere, right?

  9. The Anglican Scotist says:

    Even more, promote really good daycare. Make that a priority ministry, and have it shade off into an Episcopal school.

    Both the poor and middle class have parents working, depending on assistance outside the family. If a parish put together high quality care for infants and the very young, absorbing a good measure of the cost out of its budget, that might bring families in through the doors.

  10. Caelius says:

    I think the phrase I dislike the most in the English language is “obligatory lapsed phase in late adolescence/early adulthood.” I heard a priest say this recently, but I restrained myself from shouting “what makes you think it has to be obligatory. Could it not be changed?”

    Starting from the beginning, Scotist has a point. People are looking for good daycare. They also are looking for liturgies in which kids are involved. Two churches with which I have been associated introduced a family-friendly service that was reasonably good liturgy for the toddler to 7 crowd. (Best intercessions lists ever.) These services now attract mixed couples (e.g. Lutheran-Quakers), who when the kids grow older, realize that they really do like Episcopal liturgy (because their kids do).

    I am still puzzling about Sunday School. I generally think you should try to hit the highlights of the Bible with greater and greater depth until about sixth grade. You also might consider separating boys and girls for a few activities, since boys and girls learn very differently at that age (and are interested in different things). Don’t schedule Sunday School at the same time as the principal Sunday service!

    I really don’t know about the age of Confirmation either. But one point is clear. At some point, the church (or at least those with infant baptism) has to begin treating adolescents more like adults. There are a variety of gifts but the same Spirit and a variety of activities, but the same Lord activates them in all. To some extent, the gifts and talents of teenagers do lean toward service projects (and they really like them). My youth group very much enjoyed building houses for Habitat for Humanity.

    But you have to think a bit more widely. A lot of people I know (in their early 20s) wish they knew more about prayer and spiritual practices. They feel rather lost among the evangelical teenagers with their Bible quoting and impromptu prayers. If there is any gift I could give a mainline teenager, it would be the Office. I would say, “Hey, if you ever need to pray and just don’t know what to do, here’s where to start.” “Or if you’ve ever wanted to read the Bible regularly alone but don’t know what, this is fun.”

    A few teenagers also get a kick out of working for the altar guild or reading the lessons every once in a while. At some point, an older teenager is as intelligent as an adult but just not as experienced.

    The key to retaining teenagers is to plant the seed in their mind that says, “If I didn’t go to church, my life would not be as fun or interesting or would be missing something important.”

    After that, it’s important to support college ministry, either by creating a community in itself or by equipping parishes for involvement with the life of the local colleges. The latter is superior to the former (when college students really are full members of the community), because parish communities are what questioning college students might find more comfortable (with the exception of those who have had bad experiences at their home parishes).

    One size doesn’t fit all. But I do think we have to consider why there is this “lapsed phase” and how to reduce it, because teenagers and college students who are comfortable with their faith often are its best evangelists.

    As for the problem of young singles, I’m still dealing with those issues.

  11. *Christopher says:

    Caelius,

    I wonder if that isn’t a place where folks like C and I could provide more hospitality for some of the young singles in our parish (given we don’t have children who often keep folks very busy), inviting folks to dinner and perhaps nights out and so forth. If you have thoughts on such matters, being young and single yourself, let us know.

  12. Father Basil says:

    I feel very strongly that the place where the Church falls down the most is with young adults (18-35). We make no attempt to minister to people in this category where they’re at physically (colleges, the workforce, even prisons) or emotionally and spiritually (seekers, “spiritual but not religious”). And we make that horrible assumption that Caelius mentions that they’re all going to magically come back when they have children, after they’ve had years to nurse their hurt that they were turned away during formative years. The truth doesn’t bear this out. Look at the statistics. Our churches have been in decline since the 1960s. Some people come back when they have families. Most don’t. We need to make an effort to reach out positively to people in their twenties. Even if they don’t become part of a parish, they will have a more positive view of the Church as a whole which will affect whether or not they see the Church as an appropriate place for their families or themselves later in life.

  13. Caelius says:

    *Christopher, this is what many of the gays and lesbians in my parish do, since they make up the bulk of the Gen X population. It’s a great idea and very much builds up the community.

  14. Anastasia says:

    My mother in law’s church is supposed to appeal to young people because of it’s drum set and up tempo music. My husband and I and both my brothers in law HATE it. universally. Of course, it’s an evangelical church but they are sometimes held up as folks who do attract young people. And I suppose it is true, but it’s an awful lot like the youth group experiences you all have described. I think there is something to be said for a more demanding service.

    As for babies in the service, as a mother I have two thoughts about that. First, you are effectively prohibiting women with young children from having a really engaging contemplative experience at mass. Maybe that’s okay in the long run because the children grow up quickly, but that’s reality. I’m against nurseries but having an infant at mass with me for the first 8 or 9 months of her life effectively meant I didn’t hear a word of the liturgy for those months. Even with well behaved children, it is impossible as a mother not to be constantly preoccupied.

    I ended up taking her to the nursery because I didn’t feel like I was ever in church. And weeday masses were not really an option since I’m full time with the baby. It would be more of the same. And if I were a working mother, it wouldn’t be much different.

    Now, I don’t mean that as an argument against having babies in the service. I just think it is important to have the reality of what it is like to monitor an infant and try to keep her quiet for a 90 minute mass.

    That brings me to my second point, which is the whole “family mass” thing. If it’s shorter and cuter, so that you’re gearing it toward the children, I have to object to that as well. Because, again, the parent’s experience is dictated by the children. I for one do not enjoy hearing cutesy kids sermons or singing songs the little ones will like. I’ve been to services like this and I feel cheated. Not only did I spend most of the thing keeping Kizzy quiet, there wasn’t much to hear anyway. Not good.

    Keeping her quiet. This brings me to my last point. My friend who goes to a latin mass roman catholic church where everybody home schools and has 10ish children has had her infant SHUSHHED loudly by another parishioner. I’ve been to that church. The “cry room” is about the size of a closet. There is one window, too high for me to see out of (granted I’m short, but still) and it is always overflowing with women.

    I hate cry rooms. If you’re going to have kids in the service, you should be willing to cope with the noise. And no one (I mean it) should so much as turn around and look at a woman comforting a crying infant. The implicit message is: you are distracting me. And the corrolary is: you might want to think about leaving.

    So in theory, I think kids in the service is right. Theologically, it is right. In terms of the way our communities usually receive kids, keeping the baby with you effectively keeps mothers at the margins.

  15. LutherPunk says:

    Re: Small Children in Church

    This past Sunday (Palm Sunday) I was on my way out during the sending hymn when I could hear this 7 or 8 month old baby cooing and gurgling along to the hymn. All I could think of was God’s grace, so amazingly displayed by this child. Sure, she probably isn’t conscience of what she is really doing, but that doesn’t matter. It made my day.

    Personally, as one who leads public worship every Sunday, I love to see children. I can tolerate their noise and movements far more than I can tolerate what I see a lot of adults do during the service. (I SEE ALL FROM UP THERE!)

  16. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Oh, I know well the reality of a baby/infant/toddler in mass…

    Since M has been the one in the clergy role since we’ve had kids, I’m the one in care-taker role. Both Lil’ G and Lil’ H have been attending services since they were a couple weeks old. We kept Lil’ G in the service while she was a little baby; that worked. (Wasn’t it the Vigil two years ago, Anastasia ;-)?) As she got mobil there was a time at about 18 months when she would insist that I hold her during the procession, she’d sit till about the psalm then just get up and head out–either outside or down to the nursery. We were mortified , of course–now she genuflects when she leaves. I had no problem with her leaving, though, since keeping her there would have been unedifying to her, me, and the rest of the congregation. Now since she’s no longer in daycare church is her major social outlet–she often mentions “going to church to see kids.” So, our policy is that she goes to the nursery when we arrive at church, then I fetch her during the offetory for the Eucharist.

    IMHO churches need to a) welcome children of any age in the service–welcome, not just tolerate–and b) provide good, safe, clean nurseries as well.

  17. Anastasia says:

    we fetch ours during the eucharist as well. no pews would help, actually. at orthodox churches, it is much easier because everyone keeps an eye on them and they are free to roam. sitting on a wooden bench? yah.

    i think there are major obstacles to making this welcoming of babies a reality. to do so would be genuinely counter cultural since children are basically tolerated everyone, not welcomed.

  18. LutheranChik says:

    A great discussion.

    One of the great joys of attending my church is its welcoming attitude toward little children and teenagers. We don’t mind crying babies — we love it; as one of our older members, someone who remembers the bad old days when our congregation was on the verge of dissolving, notes, “It’s so good to hear babies in church again.” We welcome little kids in the front row, where they get a front-and-center view of what’s going on (actually, they’re the only people in our church who are brave enough to sit in the front row, LOL)…one delightful little girl gets up and dances through all the music.

    Now, our teenagers are a challenge (when are they not?…)…but we have a big youth group — 20 kids in a congregation of about 100 regularly worshipping members. We have an afterschool program for them which, per Annie’s post, is pretty unstructured — Godtalk goes on, but it’s situational; and the kids help the pastor and the worship committee with things like changing the paraments, visiting shut-ins, etc. The kids baked me a plateful of cupcakes this week; I thought that was just great. Our one issue with the teens is their reluctance to come to church on Sunday — these are kids who demanded, and got, two afternoons of the youth afterschool program per week, but getting them to darken the church door after they hit puberty is really, really hard.

    Because of our rural sociodemographic, the 20-somethings are the age group where we too tend to fall down — the thing is, there are no jobs around here, so most people who aren’t away at college are away finding work in the big city. We do have a few attendees in this age range, but they’re paired off…no young singles that I can think of.
    (No middle-aged singles either, gay or straight, so I guess my dreams of looking across the crowded congregation one Sunday morning and my eyes meeting those of my Special Someone are pretty well shot.;-)) I like that idea, though, of showing hospitality to the 20-somethings. I remember being that age, and feeling so betwixt and between, and how much I appreciated getting invited to, say, dinner at the home of someone with a real job;-), who had real food and furniture and everything.

  19. *Christopher says:

    Caelius, I’m taking notes…. Like lc, I appreciated this fellowship myself as a twenty-something.

    derek, lp, anastasia,

    I agree, welcome, not tolerate, and if that means that things are a little more lively, good. That includes having some worship aids available like crayons, paper, a few toys. Heck, if I can sit there with a rosary in my fingers, why can’t children have worship aids? Even while playing, they’re participating, and often learning quite a bit about the rite through embodiment, modeling, observation…

    If a parish does a children’s sermon, please make it about the children. So many of these are about edifying the adults by the focusing on the “cutesyness of the children” in my observation. When I used to give children’s sermons, having worked with preschoolers and kindergarteners, we would gather up front and I would sit so that I would be level with them. The sermon was geared to their understanding and they were invited to offer input. My priest at this former parish was furious, and I was removed from the children’s sermon rota for disobeying his direction: He thought we should remain standing and tower over the children and focus on the congregation. Needless to say, I was furious too.

    As for running around, the children do so at my parish from time to time, and I just don’t see the huge problem. Sometimes in the midst of their play, they pause to light a votive at the icon of Our Lady or look in the font, or whatnot. But I’d be mortified if they weren’t with us and gathered in the circle about the Table at the Communion. Children are an integral part of the Body and they should be seen and heard.

    Our eldest child in the parish has immense energy and was overjoyed to be tapped as an acolyte.

    I do remember a most horrifying moment as a youth leader, when we were making a haunted house for All Hallows Even. One rather sour elder man walked by and said “Those f****** kids, ruining everything around here!” My co-leader and I couldn’t believe our ears. In some parishes, it has been my experience that there is deep hostility toward the young.

  20. LutherPunk says:

    I guess I should clarify my use of the term tolerate in the comments above. I certainly didn’t mean it in the way I think it could be taken. I love babies and small children in worship. I most especially love blessing them at the altar when they are not yet able to commune (though I am a big believer in infant communion). There is this little girl in our parish whose family is new. She comes up to the altar with mom and dad with her little hands fold and her head bowed. When I walk over to bless her, though, she lifts her head and her face is beaming radiant. I hate to break to the sour people *C refers to, but that is the reason I get out of bed in the morning to do ministry, not to go to finance or property meetings.

  21. Anastasia says:

    i agree with everything ya’ll are saying. I didn’t ever mean that I didn’t, just that there are some major cultural obstacles to creating the kind of welcoming community that ought to exist. maybe more so for stuffy high church episcopalians.

  22. Joe says:

    Good discussion. I think that the “go the church with your parents/go away after graduation/come back when you have your own kids” cycle is drying up.

    The reason? A lot of GenXers and most Millennial where never there in the first place, and so there is nothing for them to “come back” to. The number of young people with no Christian memory is enormous…and we need to find now ways to attract them, and communicate the story to them.

    I mean after all…our beautiful, rich, transcendent liturgy is meaningless to someone who does not know the story. Think of the apex of our worship in TEC…”Christ our passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast.” What if I don’t know what much about Christ…much less what passover is, or why we are sacrificing someone/thing, and even less why this whole thing is a “feast.”

    Then announcement time comes and there is all of this insider language, and abbreviations, and educational offerings for people who obviously know more than I do.

    We need to change our “insider” culture if we are going to continue our witness in a culture that has little knowledge of what it is that we are offering…and we do have a lot to offer! But we need to be user friendly enough to walk with people through their first exposure.

    Of course, we also need to decide whether or not this is something that we really want. I’ve seen several parishes who seem quite content with the status quo, and see evangelism as a real nuisance that might wreck the good thing they have going.

    Grace and Peace,
    Joe

  23. bls says:

    When I first came back to Church (I’m one of the 3 people who came back after 9/11), I went to “alternative” services, for some of the same reasons Joe mentions. (I hated the “sacrificed for us” phrase, BTW. Not anymore, but this is, as he says, sort of an advanced concept and needs a lot of explanation.)

    Actually, I’m a pretty good measure of what people who’ve never been to Church might experience. I did go, as a child, but left once I was 12 and never looked back. I had no understanding at all of concepts like “three Persons of the Trinity” – no clue what this was about. I did, of course, know the “story” – which I think most people do. And the story, by itself, is attractive to many people. But the “stuff” of Church ritual is difficult, at first – and offensive, actually. This is not news, though: stumbling blocks, etc.

    I went to “alternative” services for about 2 years before I felt the need for more – and I definitely did come to feel this. I think parishes should offer more services like this – on Sunday nights or weeknights or something. We should get a good “introductory” liturgy together – and this is very possible, because I’ve seen it. Listen: eventually, it led me to a knock-down Road-to-Damascus spiritual experience. It’s totally possible. (And don’t forget, there’s “alternative,” even within the usual liturgy: they get 600 people for Compline at St. Mark’s in Seattle every Sunday.)

    And I think it’s not a matter of whether or not we want to do it. We’re supposed to do it.

  24. bls says:

    (BTW, I meant to say, “one of the 3 people who came back after 9/11, and stayed.)

  25. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Good points… One of M’s churches read _The Purpose-Driven Church_ For Lent. It’s a good book for a parish to read and discuss together (but as Lenten reading?!?). One of the things that struck me this time through it was how focused it was on the unchurched. In this part of the country, at least, we have far more de-churched than unchurched. That is, those who have done church in the past but left it/rejected it. I argued in one of the forums that classic Christian symbols and ways of speech might be something that this group is looking for and that the Willow Creek/Saddleback comfy auditorium approach really may not be what this crowd is after.

    It’s a big topic.

    I’m gonna challenge you, though, Joe–and push back a little. Are people looking for God looking for something that they’re already gonna “get”? The liturgy itself teaches the story and it teaches our distinctive vocabulary. I think what may be more effective is to keep a full traditional liturgy but to have lots of helps available for those who want to enter into its depths. What would this look like on a Sunday morning? Dunno. But I think some introductory liturgy helps intended for perusal after the service and discussed in informal pre/post-liturgy groups might be part of it.

  26. bls says:

    Admittedly, I know very little about this topic, but isn’t what we’re talking about sort of a modern “Catechumenate”? Aren’t we talking about some of the same issues the early Church faced?

    I mean, in those days, new people attended the Service of the Word – and they left before the Service of the Altar for instruction. Perhaps these folks were onto something, and something we might be able to mine for ideas, too? Not because people are “unworthy” to receive Communion before their “commitment” is evident – I’m really an “open-table” type, if anything – but because people don’t know what it’s about. How can they?

    Here’s something from Augustine on the subject; I’m planning to read it, myself. Maybe there was a good reason for the Catechumenate? And maybe “alternative” services the modern equivalent?

  27. Derek the Ænglican says:

    I love that work! I may have mentioned it before down here when I was discussing Ae1fric’s kerygma as his work reflects a cut-down version of it. (I’ll warn you though, I found the beginning stretches to be a real yawn…)

    The catechumenate has made a real come-back in recent years with the success of the RCIA program (Rite of Christian Initiation) used by the Roman Church. After Vactican II and the imposition of the 4th century norm, they realized that if they were going to go back and start doing the Easter Vigil they might as well start doing it right. RCIA is thus connected to a certain degree to this liturgical change. Maybe the twins can chime in here–y’all went through it didn’t you?

    The problem with bringing back a catechumenate program is that the rationale for kicking them out of the service was that they weren’t baptized. I would argue that our problem isn’t just the unbaptized–it’s the baptized clueless as well. And yes, many of the places like Willow Creek et al. use their main Sunday service as a “Seeker Service” to bring in the unbaptized. Instead, the main service for their baptized & Committed members is on Wednesday night. *sigh* I have issues with that.

    Anyway, I think that the Offices–especially a good Evensong–are good services for unbaptized seeker sorts.

  28. Jonathan says:

    Derek,
    We didn’t go through RCIA actually, in large part because we were unique cases (Anglo-Catholic background, theology degree, etc). RCIA is still technically designed for the unbaptized, although it is useful for the already baptized who will be received/confirmed at the Vigil (and incidently it’s often used for lapsed Catholics who need a refresher).

    However, like in our case, a pastor could make the decision not to enroll those coming from another Christian background into RCIA. I’m glad I didn’t have to go through RCIA since 95% of it would’ve been elementary review. I just read the Catechism instead, which was far more edifying and useful for my situation. I was also received and confirmed on the Eve of the Assumption, not the Vigil.

    Blessed Good Friday to you and your family!

  29. bls says:

    Well, then: We ought to put an Anglican spin on it. I’m not talking about an exact re-creation of the original idea; I’m talking about some sort of use of the original idea, in a new way. Morning and Evening Prayer were a re-use of monastic offices – but not exactly. See what I mean?

    The problems are similar here, don’t you think? We’d be trying to re-convert people, really: it’s now a post-Christian society, and “Christendom” as it’s been known for a thousand years is over. And that includes, I’d guess, the “baptized cluelss,” too.

  30. Joe says:

    I love the catechumenate idea. RCIA is a really cool model if it is done in a way that respects the individual journey…so that you don’t assume anything about a participants knowledge (or lack there of) coming in.

    I don’t think that we need to change the liturgy in any way to help people “get it,” but we need to be aware that it may be a sharp learning curve for many who come into our churches. Having the liturgy in leaflet form so that they don’t have to do the “episcopal juggle,” adding a paragraph to the bulletin welcoming visitors and offering a brief explanation of our worship, making sure that information is readily available about inquirer’s and newcomers meetings, avoiding insider speak during announcements, etc. are all things that we can do to help folks feel welcome and supported…and not like they just wandered into the meeting place of some secret sect who speaks a different language and knows secret handshakes.

    I’m not a huge fan of a lot of the “purpose-driven” stuff…but they get one thing right, and that is that it should be all about those who aren’t here yet.

    Grace and Peace,
    Joe

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