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(RNS) Many church leaders continue to believe that reinvention is a optional choice as they control the pace of change and shape its outcomes. Those attitudes are delusional. The reality is: reinvent or die.

7 Comments

    • wow. that is harsh, buck. being a umc pastor who is planting house churches i agree with tom…there are a majority of people out there who do not fit into the traditional western church box…the Holy Spirit is giving us new vision for all sizes of new wineskins…and many are being called to fill them with the new wine of life and faith in this day.

      • Bless you, David Brown! My biggest problem with articles like this is not the NEED for change… in fact, I rarely find anyone in the Church who doesn’t accept the need for change. What they do NOT accept is this or that version of change. They don’t trust that the people insisting on change have a clue as to what we should do now, just that we should do it differently. But there are those who dare to do what must be done – people like you, planting house churches and reaching people. The grace and peace of stereotype-defying Jesus Christ go with you!

  1. Susanne Johnson

    My problem with this blog (and similar pieces) is that the reasons given for changing are sociological and demographical, not explicitly theological ones. It makes it seem that simply continuing to attract members is the main business of the church, regardless of what actually goes on when folks come together. Moreover, it creates the impression that the only reason a congregation might want to change is if it sees its membership numbers declining. Hence, congregations that are growing numerically might think they have no reason to change, or be self-critical. In suburbs around Dallas, there are huge, and ever-growing (numerically) congregations comprised of middle- to upper-middle class white-privileged professionals who live in gated communities and lifestyle enclaves. The suburbs (and hence the congregations) are premised on flight from the inner city (and peri-urban areas) where there’s poverty, immigrant populations, and people of color. Such flight defies the very definition of what the church is called to do and to be; the Gospel calls us to head toward, not away from the poor, the immigrants, the excluded and abandoned. All the rhetoric about numbers (change, or lose your members) obscures the fact that many churches which are growing numerically not only have lost their soul,, but even more sadly, don’t even realize it.

  2. I can tell you one change the Church will not make: it will not abandon clericalism. It will not recognize that in a ‘world come of age’ educated people–who are disproportionately represented among the laity of the Episcopal Church–do not look to clergy for teaching or ‘leadership.’ There is no reason why we should. The very idea of a sermon–a lecture without even any opportunity for Q&A is an insult.

    So, priests, time to change–to do your proper job, as trained monkeys doing the magic act with a little social work on the side. And do what WE, the laity say because you’re our monkeys–we pay you and expect you to produce the goods and services we want. And if you wonder what we want, just ask–rather than “using psychology” to try to manipulate us into buying what you priests think we ought to want.

  3. Martin Johnson

    “Congregations that cannot push past an older generation’s loathing of such reinvention are likely to wither away.”

    Rather than blowing off the older generation or pointing a finger at them and saying that their unwillingness to change is causing the death of congregations, why not actively listen to them. Do they find a sanctuary in the community? In the music? In the liturgy? What can we learn from them?

    Of the contemplative prayer groups about which I know, most were started by people with gray or white hair and the online contemplative community of which I am a part was formed by an octogenarian; in my early 60s, I am one of the youngest in the group. This is the older generation leading the way to a new idea of church.

    Fr. Ehrich, please don’t ever forget, God willing, your beard will be white much longer than it has been brown. How do you want to be treated when you are a part of the older generation?

  4. The reinvented church can rent space in a strip mall, university or school…Or don’t gather at all…Focus instead on a network of small groups and house churches, which nurture strong relationships and are what Jesus himself envisioned…Vestments that set clergy apart give way to jeans and sport coats.

    Deja vu. Middle-aged clerics intent on appealing to “young people” were pushing the same crap in 1968. They were always talking about what “young people” wanted but would never listen to us. They got a few token goody-goody young people who went along with their little Jeeeezus groups and “community.” But most of us dropped out.

    I’m writing from Florence, just back from Ravenna–from San Vitale. That’s what I wanted in church when I was one of those “young people” and what I still want: the magical mystery tour, the aesthetic fantasy, the acid trip. Yes vestments. Yes the most elaborate ceremony possible. People look for that in various alternative forms of “spirituality” because churches are doing “community” and dull Jeeeezus talky-talky.

    Give us fantasyland! Give us mysticism! Give us a window into another world–heaven on earth in art, music, architecture and liturgy. Not some boring goody-goody Jeeezus garbage in a strip mall led by clergy in jeans and sport coats.

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