Sunday, January 2, 2011

Church as Affinity Group vs Church as the Body of Christ

A recent article in The Tennessean points out the trend of folks to jump between denominations in search of a place to feel at home more than a place that mirrors your beliefs.  It is an interesting article and I am sure you can find many similar articles in newspapers and magazines.  The final word was from a clergyman who was Southern Baptist but now is unaffiliated and leads a non-denominational church.  In his comment, he sees the downside of the way people choose a church home as being fickle and can dissolve as quickly as they start, like un-friending someone on Facebook."At the end of the day … I can just walk away," he said.

His point is well made.  People join things today in the same way and with the same degree of commitment that they friend and unfriend folks on Facebook.  It is not only that the criteria for choosing a church home have changed -- and they have -- but the nature of the commitment to that home church has also changed.  It is universally acknowledged that people will generally accept diversity in normative beliefs over a lack of warmth or friendliness, accessible parking, and well-kept, accommodating facilities.  What we talk about less is that way in which that church commitment is also changing.  People have come to expect and even welcome the pace of change and so the church home garners about as much loyalty as their commitment to last years technological toys or cultural trends.

I do not know about the experiences of others, but I have personally witnessed how easy it is for people to leave a congregation where they have spent great time and deeply invested themselves.  Sometimes it is over conflicts or disputes with other folks in the pews, sometimes it is because of conflict or slight by the clergy or staff of the congregation, and other times it is more over wanderlust than any substantial issue that people use as grounds to leave and find a new church home.  I must admit that I am not well equipped to deal with this and find myself often at a loss to know how to respond to such situations.  In part it is because this is so far from the realm of my own personal experience and practice and in part it is because I have been trained to deal with theological issues but not so equipped for personal and personality issues.

While this change in the level of commitment is more easily made of a congregation like mine which has been around for only 50 years and does not have many families who have a multi-generational history with this parish, I suspect that is true even in places where the parish has been around for 150 years and there are a host of folks from the family tree connected to the establishment and history of that parish.

In the end I have no real prescription to offer or even a tack to take to begin to address the way folks connect to the congregation as an affinity group instead of becoming part of the Body of Christ in this particular place.  I do know that as social networking works even more to replace the face to face connections between people, this makes it even more difficult to raise the level of commitment and relationship to the local congregation.  I fear that in the future we may well find that there is even less doctrinal unity or unanimity among the people in our parishes than is the case now.  If this happens, then the denominational names and their confessions will become less and less important to identifying what it is that a particular group believes and how they live out that faith in their life together as a faith community.


Anonymous said...

It is a fact of life that for the
past several decades denominational
loyalty is no longer a primary reason
to join a parish. Unfortunately, we
have seen the charisma of the pastor
as the magnet which draws people to
a particular parish. It has also
helps to be a full-service parish
which offers fellowship groups for
every situation(divorce recovery, etc
and every age groups. Video Bible
studies by Beth Moore have replaced
any serious Bible study led by a
qualified and well-prepared pastor.

Anonymous said...

The average church goer lost any
sense of doctrinal beliefs when our
American culture was overwhelmed by
non-denominational mega-churches of
recent vintage. These mega-churches
are present in every city over
l00,000 population and even some
smaller cities. They attract people
who want to get lost in the crowd
and have tolerance for a non-creedal
church. This is where we are in
2011 whether we like it or not.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing to do except what God has called His ministers to do. Preach the Word, and administer the sacraments rightly. Catechise parishoners from young to old.

God's call has not changed in spite of culture's constant fickleness.

Steve said...

I know what you say is correct, I have unfortunately seen it in action.

What is sad to me too is it is so hard to find a church that is confessional, liturgical, and unapologetically Word and Sacrament. We're military and about three years away from being retirement eligible. We drive 34 miles to attend a church that is confessional at least in the Pastor. We talked on the way home of how the biggest criteria for a retirement location would be the church before it was anything else.

Steve Foxx SSP

Anonymous said...

Bless you for your faithfulness... your words bring encouragement to Pastors and congregations striving to be Lutheran...

Anonymous said...

The local parish will always be a
social network because people are
involved, that is sociology 101.
However, the local parish is part of
the One Holy Christian Church and
must subscribe to the Apostles Creed,
as the barest of creedal statements
and the Holy Scriptures as the truth
and divinely inspired Word of God
without error. However, as Lutherans
we subscribe to the Lutheran Book
of Concord as our Confessions.

Anonymous said...

"Video Bible
studies by Beth Moore have replaced
any serious Bible study led by a
qualified and well-prepared pastor."

We had a class do a Moore study. I went a couple of times. It did not hold my interest. Our senior pastor is the one who draws the crowd.