Leaning into the future

I serve as an Intentional Interim Minister in the United Church of Christ, and as such, I am only with a congregation for a brief period. My task is to work with a congregation as they prepare to call a new settled or permanent minister. These positions can be long or short depending on the work that needs to be accomplished in the congregation. I am not new to the community I serve now, I was the associate minister for almost three years before the senior minister retired and I was called as the interim.

Like many churches, this church is going through some growing pains or rather contractions. Although the people do some incredible work in the local community and the facility is continuously being used, very few folks come through the doors on Sunday morning, and this has caused some concern among the faithful.

We recently held a forum with one of our denominational officers; we call them Associate Conference Ministers, to talk about the search process and where we go from here. The question of how to get more folks in the pews came up about the job of the new minister. As I have often said, it is not only the job of the minister but of the entire community to attract people to the church. Jesus commanded that we go into the whole world to make disciples and Jesus was speaking to all, not just the ministers.

But it is an important question. The minister is often the face and voice of the community, and the minister sets the tone and direction. The vision has to come from the people, but it is often the task of the minister to implement that vision and keep pushing forward to accomplish the goals that have been set.

There were a few interesting discoveries from the forum. The average age of a church member in the United Church of Christ is 70 years old. That was no surprise since I have not only been watching the graying of my hair but that of the folks in the pews as well.  But the bigger surprise was that of how long goals are viable, 18 months.

During my undergrad work in business, we were taught that every organization needs goals and a roadmap to fulfill those goals. Every so often these goals need to be reevaluated to see if the team is still on course.  It used to be that we were setting goals for five years, and then it went to three years, then two, now goals have a shelf life of 18 months at best. The world is changing so fast that the goals expire many times before we even get out of committee.

So we need to lean into the future.

One of the questions often asked is how do we attract young folks to the church? Let’s just say there is no real answer to this question, but I would suggest that we start by speaking the same language and being relevant to their lives. This means we have to understand what is important and what issues are their issues. Not to be crude but if the world does not need the widget, you are selling you are not going to sell any. If we are not speaking about their issues, they will not listen.

A recent study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute focused on the state of young America, and I believe this is an essential study for the church to pay attention too if we hope to speak the language of those of the next few generations.

I have only begun to read this study, and it is going to take some time to get through it all, but the first thing I have learned is the stuff that I think is important is not.

Here is a little part of the study focusing on what is essential:

Three issues are cited most often by young people as being critically important to them: Roughly six in ten young people say jobs and unemployment (60%), terrorism (60%), and the cost of higher education (57%) are critical issues to them. About half of young Americans say climate change (51%), the growing gap between the rich and the poor (49%), and race relations (47%) are critical matters. Only about four in ten young people say that issues of immigration (42%) and gender equality (38%) are critically important. About one-third (34%) of young people say discrimination against Muslims is a critical issue, while only 28% say LGBT rights are critically important.

Religion New Service has a summary of the Study here

The entire study is located on the PRRI website here

As I said, this is going to take some time to get through and study, but if the church is going to get serious about reaching out and connecting with people, then we have to understand that is important and speak to those issues.