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Appeal To The Secular?


Inthedark
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I have just come back from a meeting with the Moderator for the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand. The usual chat in the group took place where the strong literal believers ask "What can we do to bring people in to the church from the community?".

 

Good question. As I sat there and listened to some of the ideas I eventually felt compelled to voice an opinion and point out that people in the community are secular people with no need of the church and not like church going people. They have no reason to come to church. They do not identify with the traditional values of the church and if they are unhappy in their lives, they certainly don't think that the church is the answer. That world out there in the community is not a reflection of the church community.

 

I suggested that the church had to have something to offer those who had ears to listen and eyes to look out there in the secular world. They need to sell what Christianity offers the secular person to draw them in, not stick to old ideals and frighten them away.

 

I think the church needs to sell its feeling of community, of course, but more than that it needs to sell the opportunity for people to develop, for personal growth through the faith. An interpretation of the Christian story which people can use for personal growth, to discover the Kingdom within.

 

Of course people nodded respectfully once I'd finished speaking and moved the subject quickly on to something else, possibly thinking I'd gone a bit far with the Moderator being sat amongst us. I'm not sure.

 

Anyway, what are your thoughts on this topic? How do we draw in people from a secular society and fill those seats once again?

 

Paul

Edited by Inthedark
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Since I left Christianity at 19 (I am now 43) I have always looked back and felt very uncomfortable about people who feel they have the answer for us 'lost ones'. It smacks of something like vanity that some Churches feel that they have the answer and that it's only because of our ignorance or spitefulness that we won't accept their truth.

 

Really, if their 'way' was so great, I figure people like me and others would flock in. The fact that we don't, to me, points to the fact that the Church doesn't have something special to offer over and above what we already do with our lives.

 

In your Church's case, there may or may not be that undertone, but as you elude to and perhaps I build on, the reason people aren't coming is because the Church isn't worth going to. It doesn't offer enough to draw people in. If it did, they would come. So what's wrong?

 

I think within the whole 'us & them' / 'church & community' distinctions lie some issues. Why is the Church 'seperate' to the community? Why is the Church over 'there' and the community over 'here'? Maybe the fact that the Church sees themselves as a seperate entity to the community has a lot to do with why people don't want to be involved with the Church.

 

I thing that rather than 'sell' its feeling of community, your Church would be better off simply 'offering' its feeling of community. Those that would like to particpate will, those that don't, won't.

 

Of course I understand it's the 'wont's' that you are interested in, but at the end of the day, the people don't come because they don't see you as a relevant, useful part of their lives.

 

Why?

 

Well without knowing the finer detail of your community, perhaps it is religous dogma, non-genuine embrace of newcomers, pockets of the faithful who keep their little clicks, and/or relevance of the particular Christian message your Church espouses. Perhaps it's because in this day and age, with our access to information, other cultures, other religions, self-help texts and courses, people are finding answers for themselves without having to deal with the baggage of people they might not particularly like but have to be nice too because they are in their Church family.

 

I hope my post doesn't seem to much like a tirade. I'm sure their are a number of Churches who's members genuinely feel that what they enjoy about Church would really be benficial for others. And there are many beautiful people associated with Churches. But as Bishop Spong puts it, 'Christianity must change or die', and I think that's a case of what you are dealing with.

 

This might not be the answer you were looking for, but I genuinely hope that as a member of the community from where you want to draw people, that my points may be of interest to you. Or not :D .

 

Cheers

Paul

Edited by PaulS
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Paul,

 

Although I meant what I said, it could have been said a lot better.

 

What I meant to say, without being too harsh and frank, is that I don't think it's a matter of your church rejigging itself or trying to sell itself in a new and meaningful way. I think it's a case of the church understanding that time has moved on and that what Church used to offer as community, has since passed by to a large extent (IMO). People are finding self fulfilment, meaning in their lives and happiness, elsewhere. We've developed as a society and there's a lot more on offer these days.

 

That said, Church, just like any club or group of people with similiar interests, can still offer support and fellowship to like minded individuals. It's just that I think like-minded people are becoming fewer and far between.

 

Personally I think language like 'kingdom within' is dated and has those supernatural connotations that so many have now abandoned. It offered something once, but I think most people nowadays don't differentiate much between 'personal growth through faith' and Anthony Robbins. It's the concept of believing that there is a God out there somewhere either tweaking the strings or 'loving' us into being better people, that has become unbelievable to most people (I think).

 

I think the best thing Churches can do is walk the talk and open their doors (no matter how scary it is) to each and everybody, and let them decide for themselves if Church does really have anything to offer them.

 

Kindest regards

Paul

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In The Dark - your comments really hit home with me - I'm one of those in the greater community who stopped being a part of the church community. In fact, it was after numerous instances like the one you described that I gave up and went my own way. (Well, that, and profound disagreement with church doctrine!)

 

Paul S - you are so right, IMO when it becomes "us/them" church becomes irrelevant. In my town, if you aren't an upper-middle-class church-going Catholic, you're nothing.

 

However, when the church (whatever that means) offers something more than a place to worship on Sunday, that's when church becomes relevant. IMO, the early Christians probably weren't so concerned about getting bodies in a place of worship as they were about living the good news of our interconnectedness. That's what community is all about. I can only speak about the Catholic church because that's when I know, but there was a time when the people of the church lived Jesus' command to love one another. It wasn't about doctrine, it was about schools and hospitals. I remember when I was younger, the church was the hub of our litte community. It wasn't just about Sunday. It fed the hungry, clothed the poor, taught the children. People helped one another, people mattered.

 

That's just my observation FWIW.

Whenever I hear church leaders lamenting the drop in membership, I have to wonder how involved the church is in community, not the other way around.

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I would suggest that discussions about "the church" are generalizations and can be quite misleading. There are a wide variety of churches with a wide variety of theologies, doctrines, absence of doctrines, focuses, interests, activities, etc. Some are exclusive, others are highly inclusive. However, it is true, I think, that the choices can be limited in small, rural communities.

 

George

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Thank you for your replies PaulS and Yvonne I like what both of you said. My church is a unique position of being seriously affeted by the Christchurch earthquakes. We have lost 3 of the parish 5 churches and find ourselves having to change very rapidly. This has presented us with a real opportunity, so these discussions with the Moderator have some real impotece for a change. The seemingly endless comittee meetings of the "institution" now have to actually decide on a direction and acheive something quickly.

 

The younger people in the church want to move forward, demolish the old churches, sell 4 of the 5 lots off and build a multi purpose worship centre with conference rooms and a variety of uses to make it relevant and available to the community and not solely for worship. Kids music groups, youth groups, night classes, clubs and groups venue, this type of thing. We then need to develop what we offer the secular world as a church as far as the faith is concerned. I think what we have, when viewed through the right lens, is a method of developing self awareness, a pathway to knowledge about oneself and our place in the world. Christianity could learn a lot from the early Christians, whom maybe didn't quite understand scripture in the modern literal sense, but had a flexible approach.

 

What it has highlighted to me is the void between the majority, the older demographic in the parish who seek sameness and security and control the church environment in that light, and the younger demographic who are open to change and future orientated but are in the minority. It is almost a reversal of what is in the community where the power has shifted toward those who embrace change and new technology, and the older demographic have had to lose power, hence feel insecure "out there".

 

So as a church we are in the difficult position of finding a balance between security/tradition/old values to keep the majority happy, and a future orientated church with a modern secular approach sought by the minority.

 

As is often the case there is no easy answer and any forceful behaviour to push a minority agenda through in the belief that they will see the good of it in time, risks alienating the majority of the congregation, not to mention not being a very thoughtful or considerate action to take. The putting bums on seats problem is part of this complex situation which is also at the forefront of our minds.

 

As has been quoted "Christianity must change or die" and I think it starts with us. Maybe another 10 or 15 years and that 80% majority will no longer exist and the balance will be more like 50/50. Maybe we should prepare for that time and get foundations in place now for the near future.

 

?

 

Paul

Edited by Inthedark
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Re-reading that sounds very callous to me, which is not how I feel. I should say that the older demographic in our church who are reluctant to change, for the most part have devoted a huge amount of their life to the church. It reads as though I am quite disrepectful of this fact, which is not the case. It is precisely the reason this portion of our congregagtion shouldn't be pushed aside, they are the current backbone of the organisation, and as a consequence the power brokers within it, as I alluded to above. I figure as the older generation's numbers shrink, so will the numbers of the congregation as a whole and in time the power will naturally shift from them to the younger generation. It is at this time that more change can be implemented.

 

It's complicated isn't it :blink:

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Greeting, I feel Christianity is losing the cultural war because it is teaching opinions that annoy and not the stillness of the mind that leads to peace. People who left or avoid churches today are looking for the Holy Spirit. The churches need to make God's presence in the here and now the priority and stop selling a plot of hope in a future heaven. People want to get high. We need basketball courts, music, debate, meditation and dancing. I like your concerns may you show your fellow Christian how to have a good time.

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From my experiences of interacting with both the religious and non-religious, I think that most secular people would find changes like having basketball gyms and rock concerts at church or whatever to be superfiicial and not sincere. What people are looking for is a heart change. I know it's become cliche to be quoted in these discussions, but it's one of the most complex studies done on the phenonemon. But the survey group Barna conducted a study that found that the majority of the reasons why so many younger people are leaving the church is because they see Christians as being homophobic, judgmental, and closed minded hypocrites. I don't think most people care much about having things like basketball courts or Starbucks at church. What they want is for Christians to be sincere when they say they love you. They don't want Christians bashing them over the head with a bible everytime they express an unpopular belief and they want people from all walks of life to be treated equally regardless of their sexuality. If you're just making superficial changes for entertainment but you're not making a sincere heart change, then it won't matter how many basketball courts or big screen TVs you have in church if you're just going to be damning everyone to hell when they come on Sunday morning.

Edited by Neon Genesis
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Greeting, I feel Christianity is losing the cultural war because it is teaching opinions that annoy and not the stillness of the mind that leads to peace. People who left or avoid churches today are looking for the Holy Spirit. The churches need to make God's presence in the here and now the priority and stop selling a plot of hope in a future heaven. People want to get high. We need basketball courts, music, debate, meditation and dancing. I like your concerns may you show your fellow Christian how to have a good time.

 

You are quite right of course, those who might step through the door must already have ears to listen and eyes to see, and what they find must be relevant to them and their search; No amount of karate, music or cross stitch will change that.

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Greeting, I feel Christianity is losing the cultural war because it is teaching opinions that annoy and not the stillness of the mind that leads to peace. People who left or avoid churches today are looking for the Holy Spirit. The churches need to make God's presence in the here and now the priority and stop selling a plot of hope in a future heaven. People want to get high. We need basketball courts, music, debate, meditation and dancing. I like your concerns may you show your fellow Christian how to have a good time.

One thing I've noticed about churches is that in general they're very good at establishing strong communities for the youth and older adults but not so much when it comes to young college kids. Part of this is the nature of college itself in that college kids tend to go away to another town to take classes instead of going to a local college, but when I was growing up in the church, they always had a really good youth group service and then they had tons of activities for older adults but the college class was always ignored and was always one of the smallest classes at church. Campus Crusade for Christ has been pretty successful with establishing a college community for fundamentalists and now even atheist groups have started forming college clubs but there's not really any prominent liberal Christian college communities for progressive believers to turn to when they're away from home for support and fellowship.
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I feel the Christian game is very intimate and that is why I find the Christian spiritual beings are so passionate. It is harder to live and play with enthusiasm and passion than to die a spiritual sluggish life that suffers from a failure to grow. I don't think Jesus suffered for our sins because pain is not suffering. He rejoiced in a triumphant life that was popping and crackling with individuality, meaning and value. People don't come to the church enlightened, they come from many different starting points. If we believe we have something to share we can share it and provide a service too. We can share the here and now, the Spirit in basketball, dance, debate and meditation. Not everyone is going to meditate or play basketball, but why discriminate. The Mormons have a basketball court in most of their spiritual centers and the young go to play. Some become Mormons and some don't, but Spirit is exchanged, enjoyed and shared. One can tell many things about the way a person plays. It is teaching and learning without words. I don't think we can expect people to come or want to come to hear someone preach or to whisper prayers in a church. I think we can open a window and enjoy the different cultures and ways to enjoy and learn at the same time. Let us breathe life into the Church and people will come. People go to bars near to churches for a reason, people join gangs for a reason, people go to gyms for a reason. They feel the spirit there in different degrees. May we enjoy the diversity of a sweet life and others will enjoy with us.

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Deleted redundant quote... see quote in above post..JosephM(as Mod)

Well said Soma.

 

We ran a Rugby World Cup evening once sometimes twice a week during the RWC and advertised it in the community as a safe place for families to watch rugby without any alcohol or undesirable behaviours sometimes associated with it. We had the terraces built in the hall, a big sceen, surround sound, hot food and drinks (all free) and a number of other things going on. It was well attended and full on every night we ran it and the community did come in and mix with the congregation. Some stayed on and joined the church, most didn't. But is was a genuine interaction with our community and the exchange of spirit was wonderful. Those seeking something like their higher selves may come to something like this to test the waters before finding somewhere or someone in a group who can help them on their journey.

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One of the most remarkable things about Christianity is evangelism. I understand the need to get more members if the congregation is shrinking and collections are slow, but the whole concept of saving souls is rife with destructive attitudes. The unsaved soul apparently belongs to a poor wretch of an outsider who, without our intervention, is doomed to eternal torture. Who are we kidding? There are seven billion of us on the planet - is God such a dismissive creator that He/She has made at least five billion of us for no purpose other than kindling? Any deity of sufficient horsepower to create the cosmos cannot possibly give a rat whether we belong to an organized religious body or not. Any other view promotes the in/out divisiveness which inevitably leads to prejudice and far worse. I am a Catholic and I love it when people join my church, but that act does nothing to make them intrinsically better than they were in their unjoined state. cultural "war"? Yikes.

 

Many of the comments here say that creating a welcoming and attractive environment may draw persons interested in what they see. Sounds good to me. "If you build it they will come". I've heard that somewhere.

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Hollis articulates much better what I was trying to say concerning the distinction between 'church' and 'community'. Where a church feels it has to draw in people because they feel sorry for them (in that supposedly 'they' have something the poor illitrate in the street doesn't), then that church will always have a problem not attracting people from the community. I think the majority of people in general have moved on from this "Jesus is the only way and if you don't have him you must be miserable" view.

 

Just the fact that the church feels it has to develop some sort of 'strategy' to attract people makes me very uncomfortable. Even the building of basketball courts, cafes, etc to 'attract' people just seems like evangelism by stealth.

 

I can appreciate that such facilities might offer something to many in the community, but to me, the church should be building them as a way of sharing what they have rather than building them because they want people to come to their way of thinking. Even if that is meant with the best of intentions.

 

Paul, I do like what your church offered during the RWC and I think that is the sort of thing genuinely Christian churches should do wthout expecting any bump in attendance for it. If being a part of a church community is really that good, people will see it for what it genuinely is rather than the short term attraction of trinkets and baubles.

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I also think there needs to be a greater emphasis placed on trying to bring fundamentalist Christians into the modern secular world before they worry about non-believers.
The unsaved soul apparently belongs to a poor wretch of [a fundamentalist Christian[ who, without our intervention, is doomed

Just saying

 

Dutch

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I organized basketball games at different gyms for over 20 years. I met many great individuals that I was inspiriteded and learned from. Some Evangelicals would join, have a prayer before the game and then play dirty, fudge the score and argue for simple things. I constantly had to tell them that no one wants to get hurt that we were all here to have fun. I even went to the freinds of the worse because they didn't seem to hear through their self righteousness. Their friends were afraid to talk to them so I continued. I noticed the Divine invisible forces were stronger than my words. They seemed to get injured to the degree they had to quit or it was no fun for them playing the way they did. The group is still continuing with old and young. My son grew up and learned along with me. Going to play on these nights is going to church even though no one mentions God. Some of the young kids who tried to proof how good they were I had to talk too also because they fouled, but they listened, changed and became part of the group. One who has a reputation around town for fighting in games, told me the other day when a new young gun was fouling and people told me to talk to him. This guy said, " Remember when I was like that." People can change, but we need to come together to help change ourselves and others. It is nice when we see ourselves within ourselves and in others.

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I grew up playing Church ball, Soma, and have many happy memories of it. Unfortunately when I stopped going to Church regularly (around 20) I was banned from playing in the competition that had been my whole life. Apparently the rules were that team members had to go to church regularly or couldn't play. Quite a funny way to reach out to the community, not!

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Paul that was their loss and your gain as it seems you have grown tremedously as the churhes still seems to close and lock their doors.

 

Well, some people do say that everything happens for a purpose! Perhaps the purpose in this instance was to provide me with the opportunity to grow (I'm not sure I have used the opportunity to the best of my ability though :D ).

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If worship services were more like the concert I attended this afternoon more people like me would be in the pews on Sunday morning. Sound Circle, an acapella ensemble, performed "Praises for the World" in the second half. It was more juicy than a Taize service and lacked the "Praise Jesus" "My God is an awesome God" theology of a Praise Service in a conservative church but bore similarities to both.

 

"Praises, Praises for the world " was sung as a chant for 45 minutes while individual members of the ensemble read poetry, sang a version of amazing grace, played the saw, piano, drum. It obvious that individuals were involved emotionally with their contributions and so it was moving for us in the audience. It was a meditative and communal time which left the questions in the air: Was Sound Circle's performance a wonderful experience I had or a model for what might happen in my church with its limited resources in musical talent. The barriers are: changing the expectations as to what worship looks like on Sunday morning and helping the congregation see that within acceptable criteria they would have something to offer.

 

In the context of Praises for the World all pluralities are invited into the ritual space. Praises for the World is an enterprise - a movement by Arlo Guthrie's criteria of three.

 

Here's the opening song for all Praises for the World events

 

Here's a link for clips from very famous creating the event.

http://www.edgeofwonder.com/video

Look in the right sidebar for links to video clips

Jennifer Berezan and Friends

Praises for the World

A Community Concert Ritual in Devotion to the Earth and All Peoples

 

Typical prose contribution

 

For me this kind of worship goes long way to correcting my problems with the worship I attend. Praises for the World style is not something that can be done every week but would be a welcome addition to a congregation's repertoire, something too few churches attend to.

 

I wait for the return of Hezekiah and his worship reforms.

 

Dutch

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