Last weekend I was in Chicago meeting with folks from two metropolitan area associations of the United Church of Christ. On Friday night, I got to have pizza and talk with the clergy about what I see as trends for the future of the church. Unlike many people, I am quite optimistic. There are still some tough days ahead, but I think we are turning a corner.
After leading my workshop on Saturday, a dozen or so people came up to thank me for what I said the night before. Ironically, what they thanked me for saying was not my profound insights about trends and predictions for the future. What spoke most loudly to my fellow pastors was simply acknowledging that, after 40 years of ministry, I am finding it harder than ever simply to get people to come to church. The fact that people come half as often has their parents did has, by itself, caused the church of Jesus Christ to seem to die by half.
When people ask me what they can do to help the church these days inevitably I say, “ATTEND.” I know that sounds simplistic, but it is impossible to build an effective, world-transforming community when people show up only once a month or so. Every pastor at this conference was struggling with this same challenge. Their churches aren’t really dying. Membership and giving are as strong as ever. People love God and want the church to help the poor, fight for justice, and offer hope to the sick and dying. They just don’t want it enough to make being part of the transformational community a priority.
What meant the most to these pastors was having someone acknowledge that they aren’t alone; they aren’t crazy; it isn’t their fault; this is a larger cultural issue resulting from life being so busy and not because the church is failing or dying. Yes, the church can do better, but what I discovered this weekend is that I sometimes can be the greatest help simply by admitting my own struggles. It always helps to know you are not out there alone trying to do good.
Rev. Michael Piazza