Do you live in fear or wonder of the future, or maybe some of both? The labor continues; labor pains that is. I am of the opinion that we are witnessing and indeed participating in the most important change in “Church” since the reformation. I am convinced that God is rebirthing the church. What I do not know is what this new church will look like, though we do have some indications (more on that in a minute).
We all sensed the beginnings of the labor a decade ago when societal changes began to create confusion and consternation within the Christian community. Worship attendance patterns began to change, interest in other activities began to crowd and then usurp typical worship times. A whole lot of people and resources were engaged, trying to figure out what was happening within the Christian movement. How could we reinvigorate what appeared to be a growing body of disengaged Christians? But that problem turned out to only be the beginning of the great contraction.
As a male I have never given birth to a child, but as a husband and a father, I have witnessed the process and where we find ourselves as a community of faith seems very much like we are in the throes of a major labor contraction. I chose the birthing analogy because I believe in God. I chose the birthing analogy because I believe in the church. I chose the birthing analogy because I believe in the future and I believe God and the church will continue to be foundational to our future.
This is where the fathers reading this will understand better than the mothers. Fathers do you remember how helpless you felt when your wife was having those contractions? You could see the pain and discomfort etched upon her face as her whole body became rigid with pain and there was nothing you could do. Intellectually you knew this was going to happen and that it was completely natural but emotionally you ran around in circles in your mind trying to think of something that was helpful. In fact, I am sure that many of us fathers made matters worse rather than better with our “attention.” Well, here we are again.
The pandemic certainly has exasperated already anemic participation in church and everyone still involved is busy running around in their mind trying to figure out how to make sure that when this medical emergency is over that we can go back to church as we knew it...only we won’t. Our best effort is to realize that change is a natural part of life and the church and not make things worse by worry.
Remember I said we had some indications of what the future church would look like? Well if current trends are any indication, it will be a much smaller, though more dynamic community. When we look at what is going on right now, the best that we can determine is that we have about a quarter of our membership participating in Sunday worship services either through attendance or online. That means that three quarters of our body is not. We are now six months into this new process and if this continues on for a while those people who are participating less and less will eventually find other interests to occupy their time and talents, leaving the church by action if not by intention.
Is this bad news? Not really, because those that are left will be motivated, excited and involved. It does mean we need to be prepared to make changes in lots of areas to match our size with our call and our human resources with our Gospel efforts, but while we may (or most assuredly will) look different in the future, Jesus changed the world with twelve and I THINK there is going to be more than that as this new church is born. I can’t wait.