Sunday, January 09, 2005

Milk to a Lactose Intolerant Society

In my pseudo-class of Gospel Mission, we have been debating (or bemoaning) the decline of membership in mainline Protestant churches and what we can do about it.
I remember, from my years of being a political science major "back in the day," that decline in membership is not completely exclusive to Western churches. I cannot remember specifically any study or work to cite for this (I would have to dig deep through the undergrad fog past the out of date potato salad which is not advisable) but I recall reading several things in contemporary political theory classes that in the post Boomer era, all form of civic groups (non-religious) have also radically declined in membership. Back in the '50s, it was quite common, and coincidentally the thing to do, to be active in several civic or social groups like Kiwanis, the local Moose lodge, VFW, PTA, etc. Nowadays, virtually no one under 40 or 50 years old has ever joined or been a member of any sort of civic community club.
There is of course a myriad of possible reasons for this. The most popular theory for this is the post nuclear family that lives in a suburb 500 miles from the nearest family relative who would not have a clue who their next door neighbor was much less the people down the block. I have always taken this to mean the death of community life in a country where rugged individualism has run amuck. (I am not knocking individualism here, but all things in moderation). I mean, people rush to work to a job they hate, only to rush home so they can take their darling kid to soccer practice while sitting in the car eating some Kentucky Fried Imitation McTofu Nuggets.
Like I said, i am not real sure what all this means in the context of a religious discussion bemoaning the decline of mainline churches or what the answer is. But to me, it seems we also need to be looking at the bigger picture. Obviously with the allure the Megachurch, or as I call it: the McChurch, perhaps the church is asking the wrong question. Maybe its not so much what do we need to do to attract people, but maybe the question should be, how do we adjust to the new cultural paradigm of post-nuclear America? I mean, it seems like we are trying to find some way to make milk palatable to a lactose intolerant society. What that means, I don't know.

1 comment:

Kyle said...

I agree, lil' britches.

Have I recommended the book "Mission Shaped Church" to you, published by Church House (C of E)? You can only get it through interlibrary loan, but it's worth reading.

Maybe the mainline is dying because while it might be a religious institution, it is by no means transcendent? May a non-existant heaven forbid we would attach spiritual significance to the death of churches...

The question of membership growth is about power and prestige, and who gets to wield it. The question how to be the church lets us talk about how God is redeeming the world and what part we can play.