Rabbi Rami Shapiro posted a blog yesterday reflecting on a recent study on "unchurched" folks that was put out by the Southern Baptist Convention (link is on my "favorites" listing). His conclusion: "God is Heaven, and the Hypocrites are in Church", that's not the first time I've heard that or a similar quote. As a member of a mainline protestant church, it's likely that I will hear it again as well. He wraps up his blog by talking about alternatives to traditional church - retreats, contemplative experiences, discussion groups, etc. I think he's probably right that people are seeking those venues as alternatives to a traditional church setting. Yet the growth in mega-churches tends to lead me to believe there is something else going on. (I should note, that while I'm interested in church growth and such, I don't really follow much of the latest "research" surrounding the topic.)
Based on conversations with friends, coworkers, etc., there seems to be two groups of people that shake out as "casual Christians". The first are those that want to belong, but don't want to be involved. These are the people I see attending the bigger churches in the area. They actually attend regularly, like the status of going to a big church, kids do the Sunday School and Wednesday night program etc. Yet they themselves keep their distance. Committees? No way. Teach Sunday School? Forget it. The second group doesn't belong to a church and goes irregularly - usually to the same church however. These are the folks that would belong but just don't see the need to be financially obligated to a church; particularly if that money isn't going to someplace they see fit.
I'm not going to get critical about anyone that might fit into either of these categories. That's their choice. I would, however suggest that the criticism lies on those of us that are leaders in the church. One, we haven't done a very good job instilling the service part of Christianity into our messages. Maybe I'm old fashioned, (maybe I'm just really, really bad at saying "no"!) but in my mind, being a Christian entails service to others. This morning, we sang "Brother, Sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you...." (The Servant Song, Faith We Sing Hymn #2222). I certainly think things like discussion groups, contemplative outings, and coffee meetings have a place in our religious experiences yet they are about the individual and individual growth. That is vitally important, but so is outreach, mission work, fellowship. That's where the body of Christ truly comes alive!
On giving. People should question where their money goes and churches should be held accountable. Yet again I think we've missed opportunities to demonstrate our service if people have to question where money is being spent. Granted, people are overwhelmed with information and requests for money - but when tangible examples are available, we need to point those out. In my opinion, we shouldn't be giving examples of how many new churches we're building, or how many new converts we've had. We should be talking about how we've improved living conditions for children with HIV/Aids, or how many kids are safe from malaria from Nothing but Nets, or how we've helped alleviate homelessness somewhere. People do want to give, we just need to provide them a platform to do so.
So, what is it all about? The answer can be "me", but that's really incomplete. The answer is "me, and you, and you, and you, .. and you too!