It rained yesterday in Atlanta. When I woke up and looked out the window it made me sad because the rain meant attendance at church would be way off. I hated that because the staff had worked very hard on the service. The choir had prepared a beautiful version of “There is a Balm in Gilead.” The modern lesson was a beautiful poem by Langston Hughes called “Kids Who Die.” We were talking about the Gospel lesson in which Jesus was willing to speak words so challenging that crowds turned back and no longer followed him. Just so, there were ways the church needed to speak tough truths that might not always draw crowds.
We didn’t really have to worry about overcrowding yesterday, though; the rain caused attendance to be off by 20 percent. I understood. It would have been nice to turn over and go back to sleep. Actually, we had friends visiting from Dallas, and I wish we could have stayed out with them the night before and shown them around town. I can’t remember the last time I stayed out past nine or 10 on a Saturday night.
As I parked the car down the street from the church, leaving the closer parking for visitors and guests, I knew it was an excess of optimism, but there still was time for the rain to lighten up and people to get ready and come to worship. That is the toughest part of renewing a church. We don’t have a core of longtime members who come to church every Sunday, rain or shine. Our members are almost all new, so their attendance habits are new and tentative. Well, new and modern. That is how church attendance is in the 21st century. We have dropped from attending church an average of 65 percent of the time to only 35 percent, and that accounts for more of the decline of the church than almost any other factor.
The other thing that happened yesterday was I saw a story posted on Facebook about Jimmy Carter. Just a couple hours south of my church, the former president, who, at almost 91 years old, told the world this week that his cancer had spread to his brain, did what he does every Sunday. He went to church, and he taught Sunday school. I guess it wasn’t raining in Plains, Georgia like it was in Atlanta … or perhaps Jimmy is just a different kind of Christian.
Rev. Michael Piazza