April 20, 2016

The Devout and The Dissenters

"The number of highly observant American adults really has not changed very much in recent years."

This comes from an interview I've mentioned before that Ed Stetzer did with Greg Smith of Pew Research Center back in January. There are a three things we might draw from Smith's commentary on Pew's study.

Don't believe the hype

There are a lot of scare tactic headlines out there about church decline. Fight the anxiety. Don't let fear drive your response. It's not as dramatic as it often sounds. That said, there are a couple things worth considering.

The dissenters have left the building
The devout, largely, are not asking questions. They do not ask questions when the dissenters–those who ask the hard questions and the church hoppers are no longer around. The devout are quite content doing things as they've always been done even if there are fewer and fewer in the crowd, and the average age continues climbing.

Ecclesiastic homogeneity
The number of the devout has not changed as much as the headlines may make us believe. But this likely means that very few of the observant have experienced much more than your tradition. Of all the broad, diverse and wonderful expressions that make up the Christian church the devout, for the most part, have likely only experienced your denomination, worship style, etc. This means that there may be very little imagination for what is possible beyond the way it's always been done.

We need the devout. They are a critical aspect of a healthy congregation. But we need hard questions and new ideas to be healthy as well.

Why does this matter? For a couple reasons.

1) If you're in an established congregation and you begin to ask the hard questions or propose unconventional ideas prepare for negative reaction. Don't kid yourself. Don't take it personal. Expect this and plan accordingly.

2) If you're a leader in a congregation and you want to see it be healthy and growing than you need to create safe space for dissenters and the devout and help both learn to find the value in the other.