When I was in the 8th grade I spent a lot of time giving attention to a girl I'll call here Mary. I spent what seems like hours talking on the phone with her, writing notes to her. We seemed to be getting on well. Then she dropped a bomb on me. She liked some guy I'll call here Peter. WHAT? Seriously? What has this dude got that I don't have? Peter? No WAY! But we've spent all this time talking and . . . then the dreaded words of every teenage boy came, "I like you as a friend . . ." NOOOOOOO! I was crushed. Why didn't she like me? What is wrong with me? As I worshiped this past Sunday I wondered. have the mainline churches been jilted, put off into the friend zone?
This past Sunday I went to "the Stone Church" named as I understand it after their first building in downtown, which was, you guessed it, an old stone church. Their current facility is a great modern building. Once again coffee was on offer before worship but this time it was not espresso, just drip coffee, but still on offer BEFORE worship. Yes, I took my coffee into the sanctuary, although this didn't seem to be as much of the culture here as it was at Four Square. Also, once again there was the countdown timer on the screen! What's up with that is it a thing? It does give a feeling that something exciting is about to happen.
In my seat near the back I was surrounded by a generation that would have seemed more comfortable in worship with hymns. I couldn't help but wonder and I wanted to ask them, "why do you worship here." They didn't seen to enjoy the music so it must have been something else. I looked around more and noticed that there were a number of people in their 70's and 80's along with families of all ages. That got me thinking about the general situation of the mainline denominations. What did we miss? There was a time when our worship numbers dominated. When I was in seminary the focus was on getting the boomers to come back to worship. (As a Gen Xer that really annoyed me.) The churches response seemed to be, "yes, of course they left and explored in their young adult years, but when they have kids they will come back." But they didn't. Nor did my generation. Where did they go? Well it seems a number of them went to the Foursquares and Stone Churches of the world.
So now what? What need might mainline churches meet?
Authentic community comes to mind. One person can set the tone for the community but it takes the whole group to decide to BE community. Maybe there was nothing the church could have done when the boomers fled. Maybe the church could have found a way to walk alongside the exploring boomers. Our cities and towns have upwards of 90% of the people who are finding something more meaningful to do with their Sunday mornings than attend a worship service. I believe that among those not attending worship somewhere, many of them are longing for a community of care and forgiveness, a community working to transform the dark places of the world, a community connecting to the Holy and to one another.
Maybe its time for the church to stop worrying about why Mary has gone over to Peter and consider instead how we all can be in community together with all our unique and wonderful qualities.