December 4, 2012

fighting attraction + assimilation

The last couple of days I've been down in southern Maryland, meeting with church leaders and young adults from the Diocese. I've never spent time in this part of the world before and had no idea what I was in for, visiting this rural country. What was most surprising was just how good it felt to be near a large body of water again. It wasn't the Pacific, but something in my soul was reinvigorated just being on a beach of some kind. I had never realized how much living in such close proximity to the ocean had on me until I drove near the bridge to St. George's Island where I stayed and saw the water. It's a different kind of beautiful than I've ever experienced down here.

Another interesting thing about spending time in a rural context is the diversity. Urban people tend to talk about suburban and rural areas as if they hold a homogeneity that cities do not. In the city, we tend to accept that neighborhoods can be incredibly different from one to another. It is true that urban areas have a diversity that suburban/rural areas do not. But rural communities tend to hold a different kind of complexity that is distinguishable from to another. I spent time with three different churches in three different communities and each was unique in demographic make up and mission.

The similarities I did find here relate to a common experience I've had across various contexts from urban to rural. It's not news to anyone that the N. American Church has seen significant decline. Recently, both the Pew Forum and Gallup have shown how religious identity is changing here. In my experience of working with a variety of Christian traditions in many contexts, I find our approach to this reality to almost always consist of attempts to attract and assimilate those that are not yet in church typically those under 40.

These are an inappropriate starting point. And they tend to have poor results when they are the first order of business. When they do work they tend to be unsustainable. Instead of starting with attempts to attract and assimilate I believe we should adopt an incarnational pattern of ministry in which we:
  1. Go to where people already are
  2. Establish a regular rhythm of presence
  3. Organize around what God is already up to
Whether or not attraction and assimilation is part of the methodology used to further develop a ministry down the road is based on the skills and capacity of those involved. But I do I have my doubts as to whether those are long-term, viable values or approaches. That aside, these 3 practices are critical for developing anything that will connect with those that are not already inclined to come to church.

And since we stand at the precipice of a "fiscal cliff," remember this: it's cheap.


Jason Cormier said...

Sue Kennedy said...

Bob Parrish said...

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