Thursday, March 1, 2012

Speak Out About Your Church!

Thursday is the day our weekly internet newsletter goes out at Eliot Church.  This is my column for this week.  It is a bit longer than usual, but addresses the issue of church growth and inviting folks to church.  One of the challenges we liberal religious face is our own tentative approach to talking about religion with our friends and neighbors.  Often people think this is solely the job of the clergy and other religious professionals.  We believe (or--more likely--hope) that there is an army of liberal church-shoppers out there who will fill our pews if only they get a chance to hear about us.  In reality church-shopping is pretty much dead (in these parts, anyway).  Folks need to be invited and encouraged, not by a professional but by a friend.

Dear Eliot Members and Friends,

As time goes on, many of us begin to realize that we need help and support on our journey through life. This journey is many things but, perhaps most fundamentally, it is a spiritual one. We find ways to love in a world that is constantly changing. We seek out ways to connect with the vast and diverse creation that surrounds us and that we are a part of. By embarking on this adventure with other people, we find that our experience is enriched. Also, many of the rough spots are made less difficult because of the hands that lift us up.

One of the places we find support for this journey is at church. Here we hope to connect to our own spirits and those of the people we choose to be in community with. When we are able to do this, our spirit grows and we become stronger. We become better able both to deal with the challenges and to celebrate the joys that life brings us. Lately there has been a tremendous growth in the spirit of our congregation. I want to thank you for helping to bring that about. It is an exciting time to be part of our community.

Sometimes, when we talk about growth at the church, we are talking about this spiritual kind. However, at other times we are thinking more about how to invite other people to take part in our church community. There is the sense among many that if we continue to grow spiritually that other people will see this and come join us. The problem is that this is not how congregations grow numerically today. The fact is, most of the people who would be interested in joining our church don't know that churches like ours exist.

Many decades ago there was a tradition of “church shopping” where families would as a matter of course seek out a church family to be a part of. That time was long ago for most people today. To them the church is an antique, doctrinaire body forever looking toward the past. Our progressive, non-creedal, open and affirming approach to religion is unknown to them. When we think about our future as a movement and as a congregation we need to keep this new (though not very new) reality in mind.

The liberal church is at a turning point. We no longer control the religious dialogue in this country. This means that all of us need to get used to talking about our faith to our friends, family, and associates. We cannot rely on people like me, Matt, and Donna to be the sole representatives of the church. As religious professionals in our current environment we are compromised. People want to hear about Eliot Church from the folks they trust the

Every Lent I ask you to make your faith a priority. I am doing so again. I would love to see you on some upcoming Sunday. I would love to hear from you during the week, even if it is just to say you are doing fine. I would also love it if you would practice speaking up to others about what church means to you. I—and the rest of the Eliot Church family—would love to meet your friends.

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