Walking through a local water shed recently, I stopped to take a moment to look out into the woods to a creek beyond. A hawk was in a tree. And there strolling through the woods was an 11 point buck (male deer). For those not raised in countryside of Western Pennsylvania, that is a BIG deer, a patriarch, a trophy. Can you see the buck in the photo?
I saw the buck plain and clear. Snapped numerous photos. Went home. Downloaded the photos and realized it is almost impossible for someone looking at the photograph to see the deer.
Being a church trying to struggle forward in fits and starts with a new paradigm within its denominational setting is similar. It is hard to get others to see it. It is hard to “show”, hard to explain. And yet it is there.
“Church” is moving far beyond buildings and denominational labels. In a recent interview with George Barna, Barna spoke of a new generation far more interested in being the church than going to church. He noted some statistics that point to this demographic shift. In 2000, 60 to 65% of people experienced/ expressed their spirituality through conventional church environments. 5% gained that experience through other small groups – i.e. 12 Steps Programs, Mother’s Groups, as well as 5% who experienced it via the media. By 2025, if current trends hold, 30 – 35% of people will experience/ express their spirituality through conventional church environments. 30 – 35% will express it through alternative small groups and another 30% will experience it via the media.
Do you see it? Can you see the figurative buck in the photo in terms of a new vision for church?
See right there imbedded within those demographic shifts could be our call to serve as a church. For example, look at our ministries. Currently Strength, Women’s Ministry, and A Course in Miracles are all hosted by NCL but not created or run by NCL. We have folks who attend these programs who do not and may never attend a Sunday Service. A second example are our online programs. More people join us online than in person. For the vast majority, they tune it, watch parts of services, and then move on. Are they forming small groups? Sharing links? Probably and we will never know the full extent of sharing.
I think as well to the Wedding Ministry. Last week I officiated at a 4th funeral that grew out of the wedding ministry. That would have been unthinkable 10 years ago because a pastor served his congregation, not those outside of it. That to me now sounds deeply archaic. I think pastors will serve wider and wider audiences many of whom will not be directly involved in the church. The definition of congregations is widening dramatically.
What then of the Sunday service? Of the institutional church know as NCL? Those will be critical I believe in the same way the “hub” of a wheel is significant. Those elements will collect and equip a “core” that in turn will help grow other new and exciting ministries. And for those of us who constitute that core, we will be called to take a deep service orientation towards our work. If we focus myopically on attendance as the sole barometer of performance of bring people in vs. us serving out, we will miss the very point of how we are trying to serve. What we will need is to be willing to dedicate time, treasure, and talent to creating that strong “hub” or “core” that in turn will allow us to better serve God going forward in this new and exciting era. Christian New Church theology calls us there – a foundational belief in spiritual freedom shaped around core principles, and a profound respect for the individual’s spiritual journey.
Look at God’s Word from Isaiah:
“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?”
He is speaking to a rather expansive view of the Church!