Friday, March 09, 2012

Wave of the Future

After we announced to our congregation last Sunday that we were leaving this summer to embark on our Grand Experiment, I returned home to find the new TIME Magazine waiting for me. The cover story was really ten small articles about the ways the world has changed around us, often without us even noticing.

On page 68, #4 in the list of ten was entitled, "The Rise of the Nones." It focused mostly on surprising poll numbers in the US that show a drastic increase in the number of people who claim no religious affiliation and at the same time only 4% of people claim to be atheist or agnostic. What this means is that people are being turned off by organized religion, but not so much with the idea of God. In fact, the article cites that "40% of unaffiliated people are fairly religious" in belief and practice.

There was a focus on one small community of US ex-pats in Mexico, led by an ordained Presbyterian minister, who have formed "Not Church." Not Church is a community of people who share life together under the umbrella of Christian faith, but without the trappings of ecclesiastical hierarchy and theological disputes.

I immediately thought of the "belong, believe, behave" debates that have happened in recent years. The old model was convincing people to behave a certain way (stop drinking, smoking, sleeping around, etc), which would open them up to belief in God, which in turn would allow them to belong to the congregation. Recently things have been switched up. People are desperately seeking ways to connect to other people. Congregations like "Not Church" provide a place for people to belong, exploring the ideas presented and developing belief, wherein they use this belief to make decisions about behavior.

People need relationship, trust, before they're willing to evaluate beliefs and behaviors. Quite honestly, people need relationship and community to wrestle with the "big questions" in life. It's not something we're meant to do alone. This provision of a community should also not be conceived as a means to evangelism, but as an end in itself. Providing such a community gives people space to explore their own lives; it's not a tool for building attendance or religious structures (at least it shouldn't be, although I suspect it's already being commodified for use toward those purposes anyway).

As we've been discussing our new adventure, people have had some difficulty understanding what exactly we're intending to do. I'm not sure we know exactly, but these issues are some we feel called to engage. We hope to find and provide a safe, loving community that can live life together as we explore God's creative purpose for our lives.

No comments: