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"Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better."
- Dorian Scott Cole

Article

What does a church have to offer?

Copyright © 2007 Dorian S. Cole


 
Summary

Mainstream churches are mostly declining in attendance. When young adults move on to college, they discontinue going to church at the rate of around 80%. They don't come back nor do their children ever come. It isn't that religion becomes unimportant - on the contrary - the church simply doesn't minister to their needs - it doesn't seem relevant.

In a recent radio spot, I put the need for church in this simple way:

Parents give consistent messages to their children, and some of it actually sticks. Habits form which eventually become attitudes that are tested in the fire of life experience. Parents help build character.

Churches help build Christian character through historical and individual experience, for a more satisfying life.

Problems in life aren't resolved in 30 minutes - it's a journey.


Those of us who attend regularly, believe in the church - it isn't just a habit. Sometimes we don't know why something is good until someone points it out. For example, "Why are good tires good?" "They are round. Round is good." Many times we don't think beyond roundness - the tire works. Why else are tires good? They last a long time (over 50,000 miles), have a material and groove structure that doesn't slip much, and they have a groove pattern that channels water through the grooves instead of the tire hydroplaning on top of water.

So what does the church have to offer? Or to be more precise, "How is the church relevant in people's lives?"

On the backside of that question, the church continuously wrestles with these questions:

  • Do we follow fads and styles?
  • Do we use advertising and other media to draw people in?
  • Do we go with the crowd's interests of the moment?

The concern is always that we focus on our primary mission, which is spiritual matters, and not get sidetracked into things that supposedly have no spiritual or religious relevance and which rob the time and energy from our efforts. In other words, not to substitute packaging for message, in the quest to be relevant. But do we need to consider anything beyond "roundness?"

What is relevant to people? Basic research into people's interests and concerns indicates the following:

What do people want? People want to feel alive and dynamic, and see this vitality blossom in things that they do with family and friends. This is the primary aspect of our quality of life.

Specifically fundamental to people who express their wants, somewhat in descending order is: love (familial - not in the theological sense), money, security, freedom of choice over things that are relevant in their lives, housing, travel and transportation, food (qualitative), recreation, adventure, spirituality and religion, hopes and dreams, and empathy with others.

Religion may play an important part in most people's lives, but it isn't a daily concern, and may not even rise in importance to the level that it gets addressed. Food has a higher priority (and Christian groups always love to eat). In the Western world we are in countries that consider themselves primarily "Christian," and our cultures display Christian values and regularly portray Christian actions on TV and in movies. It is easy to believe that we are Christ like, whether we really are or not. We are in a daily struggle to compete with the other demands and choices in life, and in our hectic lives there is very little time available for religion.

What does the church do to help people feel alive and dynamic, especially with family and friends?

  1. Primarily church offers a place of community where people can feel like they belong to a circle of similar individuals who share an identity and similar lives and faith. In this community they can share their life problems, their concerns, their learning experience, their struggle to follow Christ.
  2. It offers a way to clear away guilt that weighs people down, over harming or offending others, through pointing to the forgiveness and leadership of God.
  3. It helps in repairing relationships.
  4. It helps people understand how to live without harming or offending others.
  5. It helps people avoid being misled by the destructive temptations and misleading illusions of this life.
  6. It helps people find and strive for goals that are constructive and fulfilling.
  7. It helps people find their talents and gifts.
  8. It helps people with tools to accomplish these things.
  9. It helps people wrestle with the everyday issues of life.
  10. It offers hope (possibly the most important of these).

The need for community

Without community, in this highly mobile world of ours, the sense of identity, belonging, shared values, and learned values breaks down. People lead disparate lives of isolation and loneliness, and feel that they are struggling alone with their problems. Shared values fail to get passed on to children, and we find children and young adults looking more to peers and the media for their ideas of how to live. Violence among children of all ages is on the rise, and during the last survey period teen pregnancy jumped up by 3%, bucking the thirty-year downward trend.

But as much as we can see that the church is needed, we are too often failing to retain and attract people. The church can be a very bright place in people's lives. It is a challenge to not let it drift into complacency and tradition, and then into irrelevance. The church has to stay relevant.

Goals and relevance

Sometimes we look at goals, such as "spiritual matters." and forget about the journey toward reaching them. Everything in life is an opportunity for interaction with other people, and those interactions are opportunities for the ten points above.

The church can't be, and shouldn't be, the activity provider for everyone. That only creates an isolated community that is only interested in itself, and what it produces goes into creating activity. I have seen churches in which their chief product is simply more church attendance, and little else of practical value is accomplished. But the church can be a community of sharing the things that are important to everyone by including them in the mix. Those things could be love, money, security, freedom of choice over things that are relevant in their lives, housing, travel and transportation, food, recreation, adventure, spirituality and religion, hopes and dreams, and empathy with others.

I often ask a very relevant question about business: The goal of business is to make money, but for what purpose? Money is simply a means to an end. What is the end. To name a few things, money feeds families, pays for housing, helps people become educated, and helps people retire. So the real goal of business is not making money, but enriching people's lives through paying money.

So what is the the purpose of increasing church attendance? Just to have more money, or more church? Or is it to be involved in people's lives in a meaningful way? In John 10, Christ compared himself to those who come with empty messages that promise much and delivered nothing, stealing away lives. In contrast, people will listen to his message (v10) "I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly." How are we helping make their life more abundant?

What are people concerned about today?

People are more interested in religion than we think, but our environment can be misleading. For example, politicians often ask what people's concerns are related to issues, and the answers come back things like war, healthcare, and the economy. But pollsters only put a selected menu in front of people. You won't find chicken on an ice cream menu.

Another example: If you look at magazines at the supermarket checkout counter, people are interested in sex and celebrity gossip. But only certain customers are primarily interested in these - these magazines just happen to sell well at the checkout counter.

My research into all ages for 9000 people's selections, out of over 500 different articles to read, indicated what they were interested in over a one month point in time. War and the economy are political concerns, but very low on this list in the overall scheme of things. High on the list is the mystery of life's meaning and purpose. "Who are we, and why are we here? What does it mean to be human? How do we fit into God's universe? What is our "human condition," and how do we improve our relationships with others?"

The articles included articles about religion, but neither the articles nor the audience are primarily religious. People are wrestling with philosophical questions that set their direction in life, and with the practical problems of life.

Concerns in order of priority:

  1. Mystery of life: Who are we? Why are we here? What does it mean to be human?
  2. Relationships: forgiveness, transforming ourselves, marriage.
  3. God and our place in the universe. Meaning and purpose.
  4. Justice, Law and love in the Bible, and apocalyptic.

Lifeway Research conducted a survey among people age 18 to 34 that discovered a major factor causing young adults to leave the church is the church's inability to minister to them in their transition stage. http://www.christianpost.com/article/20061207/23925.htm.

What do church-going young adults find important?

  • 73% of churchgoers and 47% of non-churchgoers indicated that community with other young people is extremely important in their lives.
  • 71% of churchgoers said they want to participate in small-group meetings to discuss life application of Scripture.
  • 68% of churchgoers and 45% of non-churchgoers said that in small group settings they can find "advice from individuals with similar experiences."
  • 66% of churchgoers and 47% of non-churchgoers agree that meeting the needs of others is also an essential element to this generation.

Some major needs that my wife and I have noticed are:

Late young adults have a very difficult time finding appropriate places to meet, make friends, share common interests, and date. There is very little sense of "community" for them. In too many communities the default activity is drinking, sex, and other risky behavior.

Early young adults need activities and the ability to explore and discuss things that are common to them without being criticized (or sense a critical atmosphere).

Child raising years are particularly difficult for families. They are extremely busy with school and extracurricular activities, and they are often looking for practical answers to life's child-rearing and relationship problems. People often lose their sense of identity and time for their own interests and care, and so find life even more difficult. Shouldering the work of the church is almost more than they can bear, except in bite-size chunks, but they have great needs. People are still growing and learning during this time, while greatly expanding their capacity to give to others.

As children leave home and people reach retirement age, there is often a void in people's sense of meaning and purpose in life. Supporting the family is no longer the purpose, so many people often lose their identity and often fall into inactivity, unhappiness, and their health declines. It is a difficult transition for many and the church can assist with guidance in re-architecting their lives. People are still growing and learning during this time, and have much to give if they can find their role.

The early Christian movement was a smashing success. It grew very rapidly. It had not become dogmatic, establishment, and orthodox (right belief). Why the success? In his book, The Origins of Christian Morality: The First Two Centuries, Wayne Meeks notes that Christianity was not a cohesive community of beliefs. They argued about everything. What was prevalent was their diversity of thought. What characterized the community was a strong sense of community, a strong sense of hospitality, and a strong sense of moral consequence that was illustrated in the narratives of Ancient Israel and Jesus Christ. The individual communities responded individually to the situations and challenges that each group faced.

The early community was a community of dialogue and of collectively facing common challenges in their own way.

One of the major challenges today is the pace of change. Technology changes our world very quickly. The pace of change in the last 100 years has gone on at an exponential rate. People can't keep up - they need something stable to hold on to. If there is nothing concrete, they find something, right or wrong. We see it strongly in political voting trends, and it is difficult for candidates espousing change to overcome. Karen Armstrong, in her book The Battle For God, A History of Fundamentalism, asserts that in a world of changing moral beliefs, people resort to very literal interpretations of their religions. Fundamentalist notions become in vogue, as they are in Christianity and in Islam. This has happened repeatedly throughout history. It is much easier to point to hard and fast rules, than to rethink everything over and over during continuous change.

We each have mental constructs of what we and our world are about. This is how we make sense of our world; how we find (interpret) meaning in the events in our lives. If that construct is challenged or broken, we have to restructure it - this is a growth process. If we are not able to reconstruct it, we remain in limbo, in chaos. Rethinking everything all the time because things change so fast is also chaos. As I noted in my research, people are searching today to understand who we are as humans, and who we are with respect to God. People don't want to be stuck in chaos. They are trying to understand their place and values in a changing world.

What the church offers in changing times can be something concrete:

  • A community of common purpose, acceptance (hospitality), a consistent message of moral consequence (although the specifics may change with time).
  • A picture of a God who is benevolent, accepting, just, forgiving, merciful, and loving (in the theological sense), and whose characteristics are embodied in his people.
  • A community where people can discuss life's difficulties and share common interests and activities.

The temptation is to get caught up in disagreements over packaging and theological statements, as if packaging and statements are the message or the thing that is relevant. The focus has to be on people's needs and how following Christ applies to those needs.

We can't get caught up in arguments over "packaging," such as the use of media, music styles, and worship styles, and even recreation and other shared experiences that aren't primarily "religious." Even God "rested" and commanded us to rest. Every shared experience can be a healing and fulfilling part of a spiritual journey that reconciles the world to God.

Younger generations require more and different stimulation than past generations. They relate to things differently - as different as reading and radio versus the Internet and multi-media as ways of communicating. We may not like the trends, but we have to deal with what is, not what we would like them to be. We have to be versatile, delivering the same basic message of God's love and relevance, in as many packages as appeal to people, and continue to show how people benefit from community and a lifetime journey in Christ. But we have to make sure that we are that community.

Yours in Christ,

- Dorian Scott Cole


Author's Books

The Prophetic Pattern: Discussion Guide for Ancient and Modern Prophecy

Are we all going to die on Friday, December 21, 2012? My new book critically examines that question. Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing. Description.

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On Friday, December 21, 2012, are we all going to die? Are there really signposts to the world's end? Does modern prophecy really merge with ancient prophecy? Will all of the Christians suddenly disappear? The answers may surprise you.

Millions of Americans are anxiously waiting for December 21, 2012 to see if the world will end. Despite the fact that signs seem to be everywhere in all ancient and modern prophecy and even science, the major sign pointed to by both Daniel and Christ is overlooked by prophecy interpreters. And interpretation of modern prophecy overlooks intent. Like a scary movie, prophecy is great fun until it starts affecting people's lives.

This book explores how to distinguish the intent of various types of prophecies and oracles, both ancient and modern. The five chapters in this discussion guide are rich in information, providing one legitimate point of view, and are intended to encourage discussion and additional research. A ten meeting discussion group is the minimum recommended.

Subjects to explore include:

  • History, and the situations surrounding prophecy
  • Types of prophecy
  • Other interpretations of prophecy
  • Are faith and prophetic belief blind?
  • Societies that go bad - are they destroyed?
  • Social change - saving ourselves
  • The challenges of the 21st.Century

Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing.

About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. He is a licensed minister with a mainline denomination with full time pastoral and counseling experience. His education in religion and psychology was through a state university (IU) followed by independent study. Other books and publications: Ontology of God, How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor, www.visualwriter.com, and www.onespiritresources.com.

Reading type: Mainstream, nonfiction.


Ontology of God: The voices of the ancients speak.

My recent book, Ontology of God, looks at what we can learn through the ages regarding the history of several aspects of religious development as affected by the ancient societies they were in, including law, mercy, and love. Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing. Description.
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Echoing through time are the voices of ancient people telling us about God. From Mesopotamia and Egypt 5000 years ago, often from even earlier oral traditions, every civilization has been inspired to tell us about God. Their voices vary widely and even conflict. Is there a common message that they thought was so important that they had to pass it on? In this book, the ancient voices speak.

This study follows the thread of the basic religious concepts of law, mercy, and love that are prominent in many religions. Major religions around the world are investigated up to the launch of the Common Era when most religions had been developed, including religions that later developed independently such as the Mayan.

These are messages refined by the fire of experience through the ages. The repeated messages collectively bear the tests of validity.

This study also looks at the many methods we use to try to understand God and religious literature. Is the nature of God reflected in what he asks of us? The premise is that it is.

By understanding the nature of God, perhaps we can filter out the many competing voices that tell us that God stands for such things as the murder of innocents and destruction.

The very nature of religion is illuminated in the light of the voices from the ages. But is ancient religion a path that we have lost, or does history hammer out newer voices to bear the truth of new experience as people try to understand their relationship with God?

Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing.

About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. Other books and publications: How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor, www.visualwriter.com, and www.onespiritresources.com.

Reading type: Mainstream Scholarly Specialist


Distribution notice:

You are welcome to make standard size quotations from this article with proper attribution (Dorian Scott Cole, One Spirit Resources Web site). This material is not public domain and may not be sold, mass distributed, published, or made electronically available in any form, without permission from Dorian Scott Cole

 


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Copyright © 2009 Dorian Scott Cole. Feedback and statistical corrections are welcome: Author, Webmaster, publisher.

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