If you’re like me, you are probably tired of reading about the research that says the church is declining. The latest such survey on American religion from the Pew Research Center found that mainline Protestant Christianity is declining at a particularly rapid rate, decreasing from 18.1 percent to 14.7 percent of the total population in only seven years.
Tell me something I don’t already know. Granted, these reports are incredibly important and serve as signals to which we must pay attention. As a researcher, I place a pretty high value on sociological research and surveys such as these to tell us where we’ve been and where we’re headed. These things help us to adjust our work in the world as necessary.
Plenty of smart people have written about the ways that these results may or may not be telling us the whole story (and I surmise that they, in fact, don’t tell us the whole story). At this point, however, I’m not going to add my own commentary into the mix.
Sometimes, I just need to turn off all the outside chatter that these reports create. Once in a while, I need to step away from the big picture of statistics and trends. Sometimes, I just need Jesus. Now and again, I need to be with others in worship and prayer. And every so often, I need to feel the Spirit working in this place, in this moment, in my small, statistically insignificant life.
Last month at the Rocky Mountain Conference Annual Meeting, I was able to step back and see the long view. I was reminded that despite the hand-wringing around decline, there is life. There is hope. There is transformation. There is God.
We worshipped, prayed, and sought the voice of the Spirit as we visioned for a future yet unknown, stepping out in faith together. And then we prayed and worshipped some more, all the while playing in the shadow of the majestic Rockies.
At General Synod 30 in Cleveland last month, people from all corners of the church gathered and worshipped together. We heard Rev. Molly Baskette preach that “the riskiest thing we can do now is stay the same.” Bishop Dwayne Royster challenged us to “change the whole damn world.” Delegates wrestled with difficult issues, yet paused to pray in the midst of their discernment processes. Old friends reunited, and new friends were introduced.
The research is put in its proper place—still relevant, still important, but not as essential as those other things.
Sparking Ministry Conversations
What is essential for you? For your church? Are you receiving what you need in order to carry out the work you’ve been called to do?
This article is cross-posted in the Stillspeaking Weekly, a series designed with pastors, lay leaders and committees in mind, offering thoughtful and practical reflections that invite and inspire dialogue on how churches can strengthen their ministries.