An endless stream of commentary and counsel on the current state of the mainline church crosses my desk and computer screen on a daily basis. As the pastor of a small church which has been in a freefall decline for the past two decades, I am, naturally, interested in what everyone has to say.
How to reverse attendance and giving numbers? What happened to all the young (under 50!) people? How do we become a "missional" church? Should we add a contemporary service? Should we add a contemplative service? Will renting space to another enterprise resolve our financial issues? Would a different pastor pull them in?
Yesterday, I enjoyed a long breakfast with a friend who is a few years (five) older than I am, who has lived without one of her children for a few years (seven, for a total of fourteen) longer than I have, and who is ahead of me in the delight category (a new grandchild!) by five months. If you had to summarize our wide-ranging conversation, you might say that the theme had to do with finding ways to live out this period of life (which I sometimes refer to as the third third) as fully and deeply and even joyously as possible, given what we were handed in the second third.
This morning as I lay in bed for a few minutes after waking up, the word that came to mind was:
A question applicable to both the congregation and the sixty-something person.
To what do we want to give our limited, precious time? What is of such great value as to make it worth hours, weeks, months, even years, of our time?
It seems clear that numbers of people who might have been participants in the life of a mainline congregation a generation, definitely two generations ago, no longer believe that what the church has to offer is worthy of their time.
I wonder: Do we, we who are pastors and leaders and participants in the life of the church, do we ourselves understand what it is that the church has to offer? Do we understand what it is that we are doing there? Do we have any inkling of how to communicate why we are drawn there?
What claim does the church have to our time?