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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

No one is actually leaving...

People who write on the internet are pretty convinced that people are leaving Christian congregations at a rapid rate. They aren't, of course, but that makes for such a a boring headline, and how will we get enough hits on our blogs to justify our not getting a real job? So theologian after blogger after writer after pastor posts that people are leaving Christian congregations. I repeat: they are not. What they are doing is re-forming Christian congregations.

Christian congregations as permanent sites (the Roman Catholic understanding of a "parish" is helpful here) had a good run. But it's over. People don't need to gather at the same place at the same time with the same people in order to be a Christian congregation these days. You can be a congregation that meets once a year. A congregation that meets in different places at different times. A congregation of 2 couples and couple more babies. A congregation that meets in non-traditional places (like a bar). Christian congregations take all shapes and forms, and so although one form of Christian congregations may be softening its margins, others are solidifying in their newness. To repeat: Congregations don't die, they just re-form.

What people who bewail the "death of Christian congregations" often seem to forget is that those congregations exist in relationship with a living God.

Living people+Living God=Re-forming congregations. 

I will admit that some of this re-forming has caught a few people by surprise. When I was doing my doctoral research in congregations 20 years ago there were a few people who knew that congregations were going to be re-forming in some radical ways. Leslie Newbigin was one. Gibson Winter was another (and his major work on the subject was published in 1961! The stuff you're reading on websites has been around for 50 years, even if the people writing about it haven't.) Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza was my favorite, as she was talking a lot about how congregations would re-form based upon how they lived with the call of God. Letty Russell thought congregations should be in the round. (Prairie Table Ministries  owes a major debt to Dr. Russell's articulation of "church in the round." That's why we meet around round tables.) Loren Mead. Craig Van Gelder. Patrick R. Keifert.  (I just wanted to get my doctoral advisor's picture in a blog. Thanks Pat for all the guidance.)
All these scholars were pointing to a major re-forming and re-shaping of Christian congregations.

I understand it makes great headlines to say people are "leaving." They are not. They are taking their relationship with God elsewhere, and that's what interests me...where's the "where" those relationships are now being lived out? How is your faith in God through Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit being re-formed these days? Where is it happening? When is it happening? With whom?

May your tables be full and your congregations be true.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Love this one! :)