What are they looking for in a Church?
Today, I am continuing my look at the recent United Methodist Church (UMC)/Barna study on “Spiritual Seekers.” Part two of the study report is focused on answering the question, “What are they looking for?” Remember, according to the study, “Approximately 50 million Americans are spiritual seekers looking for genuine community.
Like I did last week, I think it’s important to point out that the church has answered this question many times. Most of the answers we have come up with are based on our assumptions or personal preference. So, before you read on I would like you to answer the following question:
What do you believe that adults ages 35-49 are looking for the church to be?
In my experience there are a few things that we in the church often assume folks are looking for. A typical caricature of folks who fall into this category is that they are young families, with children who want contemporary worship and a Sunday school program. As we saw last week, the idea that the only seeker are young nuclear families just isn’t true and leaves out a large percentage of seekers.
Through Barna’s work we can see that the nature of community is far more important than programs. “Genuine community is the top driver of continued attendance. 3 out of 4 say friendly and welcoming people and feeling part of a community make them want to continue to attend a church.” Think about what that sentence is saying. The fact of the matter is that the Christian community has not always been a place of genuine community. The country club church where everyone puts on a show will never be a place of belonging for this or future generations.
What does it mean to be a welcoming community? For some this means we let anyone in the door or anyone can attend. That’s a good place to start but, welcoming is more than access. To be welcomed is about relationships. To welcome someone is to not just let them in but to shepherd them. It is to see them as more than a body to fill the pew. To welcome someone is to meet them where they are and walk along with them.
It is critical for us to pay attention to the highest drivers the study identified.
- Knowing that everyone will be welcoming
- Making friends and nurturing friendships
- Support during difficult times
- Finding out more about God
Personally, I am stuck by the fact that “finding out more about God” is the fourth highest. In the church we can’t help but assume that people are coming to learn about God. After all, for Presbyterians, that is our bread and butter. Yet it all seems to go back to genuine relationships of caring and support. When we completed the Church Assessment Tool this very priority rose to the top for our congregation. Our third highest priority was, “Create more opportunities for people to form meaningful relationships.” Here is a place that for our congregation, the internal and external desires are in step with each other. Like those outside the church, existing members and friends of our congregation want to have genuine community.
The other interesting thing that is important for those of us in the church to hear from seekers is that “good teaching matters more than worship style.” The worship wars that have been engaged in the church are more about the internal struggle than empowering us to reach new people. Here again, personal preference has trumped our concern for community. Churches have torn themselves apart over a drum kit and displayed the lack of genuine caring community.
One thing I have valued about Christ Presbyterian is that we have sought to be this mythical genuine community. At times this has been difficult because genuine community is not perfect community. Yet week in and week out, our sanctuary is filled with people who are willing to look past imperfection and disagreement to love and care. For some our time of prayer is, “a bit too much.” If you are coming to worship for a clean experience of God our time of shared prayer is far from that. When we share our deepest concerns or most jubilant joy we embody friendship, care and support.
This begs the question, how do we welcome people? Thankfully, I have never heard exclusionary words from our congregation. Yet we do need to pay attention to our exclusionary actions. A few years ago we studied evangelism. One phrase that stuck with me was that we need to “stop looking at people as prey.” That is to say we need to stop seeing everyone who crosses the threshold of the door as a resource. It can never be about what they can do for the church or how they can help fund the budget. Instead we need to see everyone as a blessed opportunity to expand our circle of friendship and love.
This week I would like to ask you to reflect on these coaching questions:
- What do you look for in a church?
- Do you have friendships in the church?
- How do you participate in the welcoming spirit of Christ Presbyterian?
- Do you know someone who is seeking genuine community that I can invite to experience Christ Presbyterian Church?