Thursday, March 11, 2010

Most Likely To... Or Not

A recent round of new statistics on the perceived religiosity of folks by state and region has offered somewhat predictable results.  The top 10 states for church attendance:  Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, Utah, Tennessee, Arkanasa, North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas.  Of course the highest region includes most of these states. These states, according to Gallup, have a high proportion of residents who are Protestant from traditions that emphasize church attendance.  The highs range from 63% of the population in Mississippi to50% in Texas.

On the down side, you can visit Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Hawaii, Oregon, Alaska, Washington, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.  These are the bottom tier states range from 23% in Vermont to 32% in Connecticut.  Note that the majority here are in the New England states.

I will skip over Utah and Mormon land (at least for this post).  Also of interest are the states with the biggest increases (North Dakota, and Montana being two not on the "good list") and those with the biggest decrease (South Dakota and Wyoming being two not on the "bad list").  Any thought that the bad attenders moved one state south and thus improved North Dakota's percentage while decreasing the one in the Dakota to the South? No, oh well, just a thought.

I am skeptical of these polls because they obtain the data from the people themselves.  In my experience, this is not all that reliable.  I cannot tell you how many times I have spoken to delinquent members and they insist to me "No, you must be wrong, Pastor, I have not been away that long!"  In their minds they have been away one or two Sundays when the reality is they have been absent from the Lord's House and Table for months.  Obviously I am not talking about the angry delinquents -- just the backsliders.

One of the most distasteful jobs I have as Pastor is to be Father (make that parent) to so many who know where they should be and have every intent but they get lost between Saturday and Monday -- cause they ain't in Church on Sunday.  I used to feel awkward about it.  I don't anymore.  Sometimes I get down right cranky when I meet them in Wal-Mart or call on them (at home or by phone).  Why should I spend my time coaxing those back into the fold when they do not even know how long they have been gone.

It reminds me of the time I called on one delinquent family (what a word "delinquent" - like juvenile but not).  They told me that they used to attend all the time when my predecessor was Pastor.  Having heard this once too often I asked them who that was.  "Oh, Pastor Peters, of course.  He was such a nice man and a good preacher, too."  And there I was, Pastor Peters, sitting in their living room being told how good I was.  Is that what Jesus felt like on the road to Emmaus or with Mary from Magdala in the Garden???  Well, at least they had fond memories of me.  Besides they said they would be back to see what kind of guy I was.  I am still waiting on that one.

It is a distasteful job but a necessary one.  Shepherding the flock of God is a lot like parenting the family of God.  The folks need to be reminded, called to account, encouraged, heard, and bidden... It is not the most rewarding of work but it is needed.  Part of the frustration in all of this is that the folks who should be doing more of this are the folks who sit in the pews with these people.  When you have 10 people around your table it is not so difficult to see who is there and who is not.  When you have 700 people around your table, the task is a bit tougher.  But everyone who sits in the pews has a circle of acquaintances whom they know and who know them.  If they reacted more quickly and more faithfully, perhaps some of those drifters might not drift so far.  People usually fear that folks are angry and that is why they stop attending.  In general, it is not anger that keeps folks from their place in the pews, but distraction.  And we have a lot of those.  What they need are family to call them back from their "vacations" and let them know, the family of God belongs together in His house around His table on His day (job or illness or out of the area excepting). I can and do work on this but by and large the most effective at it are the folks in the pews, their friends in Christ, and their brothers and sisters in Christ...


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

The blog posts from last year here were more entertaining. Bring back to the old blog poster.

Loneviking said...

You're right about the brothers and sisters in the pew being the best ones to call. In my parish, everybody is assigned to an elder; and the elders keep watch over attendance and work to match folks up with others they get along with. There are lots of calls going around and you can't just stop attending without someone noticing and eventually calling.

I had a few weeks this last summer when I couldn't get to church due to wifes work, kids and my schedule. I got a phone call and I really appreciated the concern. Keep trying, don't let the hard work get you down! It's worth it.