Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Present Future—New Reality #1—The Collapse of the Church Culture.

The current church culture in North America is on life support. It is living off the work, money, and energy of previous generations from a previous world order. The plug will be pulled either when the money runs out (80 percent of money given to congregations comes from people aged fifty-five and older) or when the remaining three-fourths of a generation who are institutional loyalists die off or both. [bold text and parenthetical phrase are in the book]

-McNeal, The Present Future, page 1.

A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith. They contend that the church no longer contributes to their spiritual development. In fact, they say, quite the opposite is true. [bold text is in the book]

-McNeal, The Present Future, page 4.

Help!?! I am caught between two worlds.

I live, work and serve God in an institutional church of a previous world order. Evergreen Presbyterian Church is a great church. We have been able to make significant changes at the church over the past seven or eight years. But one thing has remained the same—we still look, feel and act like an “institutional” church.

For the past fifteen (or so) years I have seen the “institutional” church in a death spiral. I have witnessed denominational and presbytery leaders fight with all their might to try and keep the institutional beast alive. They have reorganized, reshaped, re-thissed, and re thatted (how is that for a new word). Nothing has worked. The PCUSA and most denominations should call the denominational hospice folks to find a way to die with dignity.

It is amazing that this morning I took part in one of the surveys of the Presbyterian Panel. There were lots of questions concerning my health. It wanted to know whether I thought that I am healthy and what I was going to do about my health. I was horrified that the survey didn’t ask me about my weight or % body fat. The survey wanted to know if I thought that I considered myself young, middle-aged, old or very old. As if it matters if I “think” that I am middle-aged or not. I am 51! I am middle-aged whether I think that I am or not! The father of a person at our church is 85+ years old and in a care facility. He hates being there with all of those “old” people. His daughter had to point out that he WAS one of those old people. Our perception may be our reality but it does not change REALITY.

McNeal does go on to say that the church of Jesus Christ is not going to die! I firmly believe this. The institution of a previous reality is going to die.

Evergreen Presbyterian Church in many ways reflects what the institutional church is facing. We have a HUGE population of wonderful, old people (late 70s and older). If we keep doing things the same way we have always done them we will be in peril within a few years. The leadership of our church is already beginning to tackle this problem. We are going to deal with issues that will make some people feel uncomfortable.

Just the other day I was at a Presbytery meeting. It was “church” as usual. Nothing of substance was dealt with. There was nothing there that would cause me to ask one of our “employed” elders to miss their work. The worship was wonderful—but I worship every week at Evergreen and in my daily life. I saw a bunch of people who are vested in the “church” of a prior time trying to hold on for all their worth. One report was given and the presenter tried to guilt us into taking a special offering for a particular “mission” effort of the Presbytery. This mission became a part of the Presbytery because of the interest of two or three people, our General Presbyter and on church. No one asked Evergreen what we thought about this mission. We support a mission effort in Chile, a village in Alaska, and other short term mission efforts around the world. We are not going to be “guilted” by the institutional church (Presbytery) to support a pet project of a few people.

The Presbytery isn’t my “church,” even though that is where I am FORCED to have my membership. I view myself as a member of Evergreen even if the denomination says that I am not a member there. This is the thinking of a prior church existence.

So I am torn. I live and work in the institutional church. I lead a congregation that is seeking to face the new reality of an unchurched culture and the later stages of the life of the institutional church. My kids are a part of a generation that moves and lives apart from denominations.

Will the Presbyterian Church be so rooted to the past that we will once again be the losers (like in the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings)? Individual churches will thrive. Individual churches will die. Denomination will come and go. The church of Jesus Christ will thrive—with us or without us.


At 4:44 PM , Blogger Red_Cleric said...

You raise good points. I don't have easy or even clear answers to the issues we face.

The existing culture has seemed to center on "informing" people, [20 min. sermon; three hymns and a poem]. Or perhaps "entertaining" them al.la. Seeker services, cool bands lights and the rest.

I am thinking a healthy future is one in which we build places where there are "encounters" with people. I'm not sure what that looks like. It may well be a combination of small groups, broad based discussions, round table type meetings, or even a learning center model.

That's the "teaching" piece of this. I wonder how we incorporate [probably a bad word choice] worship into such models. I don't think it's impossible. I think it's very doable. I just don't think it will be easy nor do I believe we'll get much ownership from those over 60 who have vested themselves in the "informational" or "entertainment" mode of church.


At 6:42 PM , Blogger Presbyterian Gal said...

I have a slightly different view. I believe that the places for "encounters" that Alan speaks of already exist. In our homes. Because we have so little time any more to leave them. And the opportunity for those encounters would be in the daily processes of our lives.

Actually the remarkable increases in the cost of living (ie: gas, groceries, goods and services) presents a great opportunity for "encounters".... as in: coop shopping; car pooling; swapping services - haircuts, gardening, and the like. All the while sharing scripture and talking about Jesus.

Think about it. Reconnecting by recreating an authentic community that shares while living.

(It's so Amish, actually, but with electricity and indoor plumbing)

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