Recently, the United Methodist Church (UMC) released the results of a study they commissioned through the Barna Group. Barna is the “leading research organization focused on the intersection of Faith and Culture.” This study was focused on Spiritual Seekers ages 25-49 and was conducted in November of 2017. While the study was commissioned by the UMC, it was focused on unaffiliated seeks so the data is not denominationally based.
The overall results of the study may surprise you. According to Barna approximately 50 million Americans are spiritual seekers looking for genuine community. I’m sure as you read this you are asking yourself where are these people and what do we need to do to get them in the door? Today, I want to focus less on our action and more on our understanding of folks who are seeking something spiritual. In the church we often look at those outside our circle and try to tell them what they need. I think that this study helps us to hear directly from those we would seek to serve rather than make assumptions. (You remember what they say about assuming)
For our purpose the results can be grouped under four main questions:
For the next four weeks, I am writing a brief analysis of the study and hopefully I can help our congregation glean insights on what we are doing well and what we can do better to meet the needs of our community.
Who are they?
According to Barna, spiritual seekers are more likely to be female, single, have no children, and diverse. Now the margins in this study aren’t that big, but this makes me ask the question, who are we seeking to serve? Since the beginning of time, or at least since the baby boom, the church has focused most of its efforts on young families with children. I have seen this expressed in every Church Assessment Tool (CAT) that I have interpreted for churches in our presbytery. Even our own CAT ranked “Make necessary changes to attract families with children and youth to our church” as our second priority. This study questions this fixation on the married young nuclear family. Society has changed. People are waiting longer to marry and have children. The expectation that every individual will procreate has lessened. Yet, here we are as the church, with a model that see only the social norms of the past.
It is important to acknowledge that I’m not saying the church got it wrong. In fact, the church got it right for a given time. The issue is that we have failed to continue to respond to the culture. I heard one critic of the church say that we are not much different than the Amish. The only thing is that we choose to live mostly by the 1950s order instead or the 1800s. The reality of the church in this case is much like business, we must innovate or die.
Of course, this idea strikes fear into the hearts of those who have been in the church for a long time. Just as Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, we want the church to stay the same. There is also the fact that we like to be comfortable. The nature is not a comfortable reality. In this case the idea of the church dying isn’t very comfortable either.
So what does this mean for us? This week, I want to ask you to consider the coaching questions below. Perhaps they will help us to reflect on how we reach out to our community and spiritual seekers in our midst.
Is your own comfort more important than helping others experience Christ?
Is the description of the spiritual seekers in our community what you expected?
Who are we overlooking?
Do you know someone who fits the description of a spiritual seeker? If so, have you invited them to experience our community?