important preliminary comments here (part 1)
our american identity here (part 2)
my framing theological assumption here (part 3)
the unfortunate results of being reactors here (part 4)
the unfortunate results of being simplifiers here (part 5)
the unfortunate results of being systemitizers here (part 6)
since we’re highly individualistic, with VERY little sense of inter-relationships…
we’ve fueled the explosion of the autonomous church. i attend an autonomous church. it has no affiliation to any other church, anywhere. now, i’m not saying this is evil. i think much of denominationalism is ridiculous (and i can’t have it both ways). and the last church i worked in had a denominational affiliation that meant absolutely nothing — we never met with other churches in that denomination: it was only a name on the sign. but — all that said — there has been a massive boon of autonomous churches in america.
after all, we’re reactors — so many churches are started by identifying what they don’t want to be (and that often includes the denomination they were). we hate moorings and, even more, we hate accountability. so, since it’s now socially acceptable in american-church-world to be a part of a church (as a pastor or parishoner) with no affiliation, it’s a more and more attractive option.
look in the yellow pages at churches. they’re listed by denomination, under the general heading of ‘churches’. what’s the largest section in your yellow pages? in MOST, it’s ‘non-denominational’. this would have never have been true twenty years ago. funny aside: the fast growing church section in most yellow pages — quickly threatening to overtake the non-denominational category — is the reasonably new category: inter-demoninational. this is basically symantics. the inter-denominational churches are just saying, “hey, we’re happy to take transfer-growth from any other church in town.”
i have to say, something does seem to be lost (something good?) if we become a nation of disconnected churches, all as autonomous as the inconic american cowboy.
“church-shopping” is commonly understood. remember, i originally developed this seminar for greenbelt, a festival in the UK. and i presented it at our youth workers convention in argentina also. in both of these contexts, when i used the term “church shopping”, i was met with a room rull of blank stares. i explained the concept, and that a good (majority?) percentage of pop-culture church attendees would be familiar with the concept. and — seriously — the response in both seminars was a collective audible gasp!
i worked for a bit in a church in “the OC” (orange county, california — just south of LA). orange county is a unique little place in america — kind of a place where all the americanisms i’ve identified are on steroids. it’s a conservative and wealthy pocket in an otherwise fairly liberal state. you can’t spit without hitting a mega-church. churches over 1000 in attendance are everywhere. but people move between these churches with a constant fluidity. i know many people who regularly attend multiple churches, picking and choosing the pieces of each church that best satisfy particular desires.
now, certainly, this is very connected to consumerism (which is an identity piece i haven’t talked about — partially because it seems less distinctly american). but i think it’s also connected to our american commitment to individualism. if my primary concern, as a church attendee, is what the church can provide for me, then why wouldn’t i simply select the church that — at any given moment — provides the best menu of satisfaction for my individual tastes and desires?
we’ve lost almost all sense of an intergenerational church, and ‘do church’ primarily in age-group ghettos. let me say this right off the bat — because i know many readers will already be thinking this: youth specialties has been part of this problem. remember — i’m pointing my finger at myself as much or more than at anyone else in this rant.
my own church as an example: i volunteer in the middle school ministry of my church. our middle school students — who are often introduced to church for the first time by parents who have just come to christ (or come back to christ) and start bringing their kids to church — come on sunday mornings to our middle school group, which meets at the same times as the regular services of the church. and we have a mid-week small group ministry also, which is exclusively middle-schoolers. the result is that the only contact our middle school students have with adults in our church is with those of us who work with them in the context of the middle school ministry.
i believe — strongly — that age-appropriate ministry is still important. and there are things — for example — that we can accomplish in our middle school ministry that are very important for the spiritual development of these kids. but we’re missing something; they’re missing something. and it shouldn’t be shocking to us that many of our youth group regulars in america have a VERY hard time transitioning to being part of the church as adults. this forces many of our churches to create new age-group ghettos for young adults, perpetuating the system.
next up: since we’re over-staters… (part 8)