Well, I have to admit that I still think it is. A dirty word I mean. I have always been of the opinion that a theology worth following doesn’t need a lot of advertising. You shouldn’t have to convince people, it ought to be self-evident. After all, we think of our “American rights” as self-evident right -life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Course, details do hamper things I admit. But nonetheless, we don’t need convincing that these are good things.
So, looking over the religious landscape, the Christian one at least, one has reason to be concerned. Polls show that more and more people are not identifying with any denomination at all, and those that do, are largely not frequently the aisles of their local religious institution. What’s to be done? Should anything be done?
We’re mulling over some of these thoughts at my church. And I often get bogged down, as you see here, in the philosophical rather than the mechanics of the beast. Should we be trying to do anything?
Let’s face some facts. As I said, in general one of the most “believing” of nations is increasingly not finding any denomination to its liking. Fewer and fewer of those who do, attend services regularly. That means that people are leaving a lot of churches, and with them, taking their money. And that means a lot of churches are beginning to hurt financially.
This always becomes some what of a sore spot. The purists would say, church is for worship, and shouldn’t be bugging me for funds all the time. The answer is that church provides lots of services, and stuff costs money. Few missions of whatever nature are free of charge. Churches need to raise revenue, not only to serve their own members, but to serve the greater community of humans. In fact, I would argue that that is their greatest mission.
So the drive to bring in the unchurched has many purposes, but I would argue that on balance, all of them are worthy. The purist wants to save more souls, the missionist wishes to serve more souls.
It is also true, that to a greater degree than ever, people “shop” for a church. This may be for appropriate liturgy and theology, but also for day care, and various support systems that many churches offer today. I’m not here to claim any of these are wrong. I don’t know that they are. They are but one component in the enterprise, and if day care gets you in the door, you hopefully will benefit from our liturgy and sermons, and thus draw nearer to your and my God.
So how exactly do we “advertise?” How do we engage the “spiritually” inclined but unchurched? How do we locate those people, and by what EFFECTIVE means can we bring them to church? That, as I said, is what we have been discussing, mulling, and otherwise brainstorming.
I continue to believe that a life well lived is the best advertisement there is. People admire and eventually try to undercover the secret of successful and seemingly calm, smart, happy people. Those that seem never to get overwhelmed, who always have a kind word, who are team players, who like to share credit, who offer a helping hand. Those are the folks that we begin to wonder about. What secret do they know? Finally, usually, we figure out a way to ask. And when we do, we find that a vigorous faith life, a healthy church involvement is often at the foundation.
Notice, I said “often,” because I never will negate that those who are by choice “not religious” can be fine people in their own right and can be exactly the type of people we admire. They have a different secret to their successful living, and one that is worthy of discussion. Check out the blogs, somebody will certainly be explaining that. Here we are discussing religion.
Sometimes it’s our work environment that perfectly situates us to show ourselves and our faith life. We just come in contact with lots of folks and the manner of our work gives us an inside to these more intimate discussions. Sometimes it may be our leisure activities that provide the connection.
But before we worry so much about where we can be that “shining light on a hill,” we best spend a bit more time deeply ingesting our spiritual food, scripture and worship, prayer and study. It does us no good to find those moments when we can speak of our faith, if there is nothing about us that suggests we have any. If that is the case, our words will fall on deaf ears.
It seems to me that when we “advertise” in any fashion our faith or our denomination, we best we “walking the walk.” If we are not, we send the opposite message, namely that our church doesn’t achieve much success in making us better people. Much like the right wing biblicists (my new word for fundamentalists), we drive away the very people we would seek to attract.
I’m sure that its a good thing to seek out those who are spiritual, those who want to make a contribution to their community, and those that feel a vague “calling” from God. It’s a good thing invite them in, and nurture them. It’s a good thing to offer support and encouragement to another’s journey. We are all on journeys, but we can uphold one another just the same. We can offer our own stories, our failures, our successes, our ah ha moments. We can focus your energies on missions of mercy and empowerment to the greater world. We can perhaps answer a question or two.
Come and talk. Come and listen. Come and ask questions. But do come. We need you to enrich our experience. You need us to enrich yours. If we both come a little closer to our God in the process, then we have in the best Jesus tradition, loved our neighbor as ourselves. Amen.