Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Why American churchgoers like to shop around. - By Andrew Santella - Slate Magazine

Why American churchgoers like to shop around. - By Andrew Santella - Slate Magazine:
"Since before Election Day, Washington pastors have been lining up to invite the first family into their flock, and outlets from PBS to the Wall Street Journal have taken their turn handicapping the many contending congregations. Despite all of this cajoling, the White House announced that the Obama family is still shopping for a church in Washington.

Except for the special invitations and the presidential-scale press coverage, the Obamas' church search puts them in a situation a lot of American believers are well-acquainted with. One in seven adults changes churches each year, and another one in six attends a handful of churches on a rotating basis, according to the Barna Group, a marketing research firm that serves churches. Church shopping isn't a matter of merely changing congregations: A survey by the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life last year indicated that 44 percent of American adults have left their first religious affiliation for another. 'Constant movement characterizes the American religious marketplace,' a survey summary said. ..."
Very interesting...

I tend to get a little nervous when I hear the language of marketing used to describe the preaching of the Gospel, but on the other hand why should people attend church where their needs aren't being met?

Andrew Santella points out that when the church was disestablished, it fell to the preachers to recruit and retain parishioners (and to get them to give generously). This may be part of the equation, but my feeling is that a healthy congregation equips all its members to perform such functions, not just the minister or elders or deacons. In fact, a congregation that is held together by the personality and preaching of one pastor is in danger of collapsing when the pastor moves on.

Much of what defines a church happens at times other than the worship hour. Sunday school, fellowship groups, Bible studies, prayer groups, potluck dinners, retreats, visiting the sick, and so on are not, nor should they be, the sole job of the minister.

A large congregation does not necessarily mean a healthy congregation, nor does a small congregation necessarily mean one that is slowly dying. The pitfall in thinking of the Church as a consumer product is that we easily forget why we are called together in the first place -- to worship, fellowship, and serve others. Or in the words of the PC(USA) Book of Order (G-1.0200): "The great ends of the church are the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world".

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