Last Saturday night was my first in-person experience with a professional soccer match. I was not disappointed. Tied 0-0 with the Seattle Sounders at the 83 minute mark, Sporting KC scored on a penalty and went on to win the game 1-0. We were right behind the goal when the point was scored. During the game, it was announced that there was a record attendance that night. The atmosphere was family friendly and welcoming. I will be back!
I was reflecting on this experience on Sunday and thinking about church participation. The church I attended on Sunday morning was not packed with people and the atmosphere was—well--worshipful. This contrast often leads commentators to talk about decline of churches, denominations, and organized religion in general. If we were doing the right thing, more people would attend our services. Let’s not compare apples and oranges. Certainly we do not often find the kind of enthusiasm and participation in organized religion that we find at concerts, sporting contests, and other mass events; however, I attend a mass event in a stadium with far different expectations than I take to a worshipping community.
This does not mean that churches cannot and should not change, but if we are just trying to make the church bigger, louder, and more enthusiastic, our criteria are misplaced.
In a recent blog, Tom Ehrich wrote:
“Much of the ‘dying’ we worry about [in the church] is the normal passing away of structures and ideas that no longer convey meaning. The big downtown church isn’t empty because church leaders failed or people were unappreciative. It’s empty because people are finding life elsewhere.”
Ehrich suggests that rather than dying, we may well see manifestations of the church in new ways that meet people where they actually are rather than where we wish that they were. He goes on to write about possible “faith communities” that would be characterized by action, drawing closer to God, living simply, and powered by true enthusiasm (“possessed by God”).
People go where they are challenged, where they are welcomed, and where they find life. This does not call Christians to accommodate themselves to the marketplace but to become servants to the world.