We are in a period where many churches are declining in both numbers and influence. In the 50’s and 60’s congregations built big buildings and grew in numbers. They were part of the “can do” culture in which many institutions grew and expanded.
Then came a growing distrust of all institutions. Name me a major institutions that in the last twenty years has not had a major scandal that exposed them and made people feel betrayed. Think of the field of government, finances, education, charities, law, health, and, sadly for believers, the church as well. A society is bound together by their institutions and yet they are also subject to the frailties of human decisions. If we can’t trust our institutions, how do we act together as a society.
MISTRUST AND FAITH
The whole phenomenon of wanting to be spiritual but not religious is a consequence of our growing institutional distrust. Yet it also reflects the natural human yearning of wanting to be connected with something beyond the individual self. Our faith tells us that we are connected with something more than just our individual lives. Yet it is the institution of the church that conveys the memory that speaks the truth of our purpose in life. If you read the Bible that conveys that story, you recognize that from the beginning the story was never told through a perfect community. Yet somehow the people of God were able to hear that story through the practices of their imperfect community.
We need to rediscover the story that transcends our imperfections and yet is tied to our imperfect community of real human neighbors.
REDISCOVER JESUS FOR THE FIRST TIME
Maybe we need to begin with the basics. The complex thinking of good theology has much to offer, but sometimes we need to begin with some simple community building exercises. Since so many of the stories of the faith community included sharing food, maybe you should begin with having a church dinner.
At the dinner, ask for each table to come up with a list of five or six basic teachings of Jesus that should be part of Christian living. What you are doing is identifying a basic core of your Christian life.
Let each table share their list and then try to build a consensus around at least ten core beliefs or practices. Then discuss as a body how you think the outside society would respond to seeing a community of people emphasizing these beliefs in their lives.