Sunday, January 2, 2011
Church as Affinity Group vs Church as the Body of Christ
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.