Did you ever step into a conversation and find yourself completely lost? Maybe you were at a party or a lunch with friends and you stepped away. When you came back, the conversation had changed and you were not sure what it was about anymore.
It feels to me like that has happened in the church. We were engaged in a particular conversation, a wonderful and comfortable conversation, but now the people around us are talking about something else altogether. The conversation has changed. When we talk about our congregation, worship, about how friendly and welcoming we are, about our social events or our outreach, people stare at us as if we are talking a foreign language, or worse, they don’t even pay attention.
It is not that our friends and neighbors don’t care, or that they don’t have a desire to make a difference, or that their hearts are hard. No, the problem is that the conversation has changed. Where once we could expect our neighbors and friends to be, for the most part, one variety of Christian or another, we now find that, for the most part, our friends and neighbors are “spiritual but not religious.” That doesn’t mean that the people around us do not love God. It’s just that the conversation has changed. There have been two or three generations who never went to church, learned the stories of the Bible, or heard about Jesus. They still experience a love of the sacred: of beauty, and of nature. They still care about their fellow human beings. They just don’t recognize what we are doing as being about that.
In order to share the Good News of Jesus today, we have to change our conversation. Rather than talking about welcoming people to experience the benefits of our congregation, we need to walk alongside them, where they are, and do what we can to share those benefits with them. Even the images we use to talk about church need to change. We need to go from being a “concert hall” to being an “academy of music.”
The truth is we have been making these changes for years, but they are hard work. We are meeting our neighbors. We are building relationships with other social justice and religious groups. We are feeding people and hosting Tent City 3. All of these ministries and relationships are new and sometimes awkward, but we are learning the new conversation. We are learning to share the love and blessings of God with the people around us by walking with them rather than by asking them to be like us.
Yours in Christ,