Sunday, February 10, 2019

Religion at the center of life. . .

While talking to my brother back in Nebraska, he told me the story of a family in town that had decided to move away.  The reason for the move was not job or housing or shopping or anything like that.  The husband would keep his job and commute 45 minutes.  They were perfectly happy in their home.  This sacrifice was being made so that their children might attend parochial school.  Without one any closer, this family was choosing to disrupt everything so that their children might attend a Lutheran school, a Wisconsin Synod one to be precise.

My brother said you had to respect people whose faith and church were such the center of their lives that they would be willing to make such sacrifices for the sake of instilling this faith in their children through the ministry of the Lutheran school.  Given that many Lutheran schools are closing because Lutheran parents are not prepared to pay tuition and make such sacrifice or there is simply a paucity of Lutheran children from which to recruit, this story is rather noteworthy.

According to survey data compiled by political scientist John Green, only about 18 percent of Americans today place religion somewhere near the center of their lives. Religion at the center of life does not mean some sort of extraordinary saintly person or family.  This is not the rare instance of a family whose character mirrors Mother Theresa or even the separate existence of the Amish. This is the story of solidly ordinary people whose faith lives not at the fringes of their lives but at the core and center of their existence.  These are values voters who vote not their pocketbook but their morals.  These are the folks whose religious commitment is enough to keep them out of step with the world around them.  This data from John Green actually fits well with a recent Pew Center poll which found that only 20 percent of Americans look to religion to provide meaning in their lives.  Faith is no longer part of the essential recipe but a condiment, something served on the side.

There was a time when fifty people on Sunday morning would be more than enough to support a congregation, building and pastor.  Now we are told that this is not enough.  Is it that the costs have escalated so high or that the commitment has waned?  We hear regularly that Christians give less than 2% of their incomes and that this 2% is often divvied up between church and charities.  It is no wonder then that small congregations are struggling. 

There was a time when regular church attendance meant every Sunday but typically once or month or twice a month is now considered normal and regular.  It seems people have options and choices and these options and choices make church compete with leisure activities, children's sports and other activities, and, often, just plain laziness.  It is no wonder that pews are empty.

There was a time when there were more folks willing than there were jobs in a typical congregation, when Sunday schools and Vacation Bible Schools did not worry about recruiting teachers and aides, and when nominating committees found plenty of folks willing to serve in the various offices of a typical congregation or civic organization.  Those are not the days in which we live today.  Warm bodies have replaced the best people and governance and service now have to offer something back to the folks serving.  The care and feeding of volunteers has become a science.

This has become personal in seeing my home congregation connect with another small Lutheran church to become a dual parish -- less because there are no people than the people whose names are on the books are not there in the pews.  This is a sad chapter of a congregation that once expected 80% of the membership there on any given Sunday morning.

The reason for this has less to do with anything else except the fact that religion and faith are no longer at the center of the lives of Christian individuals and families.  This is not a good thing -- certainly not for the churches but even more problematic for those who say the faith is very important to them.  Clearly we have our work cut out for us when nearly twice as many identify as nones as do those who say their faith is at the center of their lives.

1 comment:

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Sometimes it is so disconcerting to consider the days in which we live. Going to church on Sunday should never be just an option or just an obligation either. Unless we are ill or otherwise excused for good reasons, we should desire to go to church to hear the word of God, pray as a congregation, sing to the Lord, and enjoy the fellowship of fellow believers. It is easy to grow careless, and forget the things of God, getting snared by the world and our own selfish inclinations. A true child of God should desire to go to worship service, and weekly Bible study as well.