Sunday, October 10, 2010

Serial Church Joiners and Leavers

I grew up in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. In high school, I attended a Southern Baptist church. In college, I didn’t attend anything.

After getting married and moving to Houston, we visited several churches and landed at a 12,000-member Methodist church (no one called them “mega-churches” back then). We enjoyed the people in our “young marrieds” Sunday School class, but doctrinally, well, let’s just say the Methodist Church was changing back then. We visited other churches and joined a non-denominational congregation called Spring Branch Community Church.

When we moved to St. Louis, we visited churches all over town; we discovered that churches were very different from those in Houston – more traditional, more denominational, less of the community we had at Spring Branch. We joined a Reformed Presbyterian congregation. A couple of years later, we found a small church similar to the one we had in Houston.

Then we bought a new house and the commute to church became a problem. So we joined a closer Evangelical Free congregation, and stayed there 15 years. Things changed, and we left. Six years ago, we joined the church where we worship now.

Except for the 15 years at the E Free church, we’ve been rather nomadic, following a similar path trod by millions of other American Christians. It’s a journey well recognized by Michael Spencer in Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality. His own path has been even more diverse, including checking into emergent churches, house churches, church renewal, church revival, media church, small groups and Catholic and Orthodox churches. (I’ll admit to having an attraction for the Catholic Church; I grew up a Lutheran minority in Catholic New Orleans.)

And if you ask what the next stop on the church tour will be, Spencer would say – there isn’t one. You’re not going to find what you’re looking for because it doesn’t exist. The perfect church doesn’t exist, and we serial church joiners and leavers can prove it.

“There is only one reliable constant,” Spencer writes. “There is God, who is moving people out into the world. This is a Spirit-led evolution of the movement Jesus started. It is a process of God moving Christians out of pews and toward the Kingdom that Jesus promised. And there is no predicting where that journey might take a person. But if it takes him or her outside organized Christianity, why would we argue with God about it?”

I may be wrong, but I don’t expect I’ll be moving outside organized Christianity. But I think Spencer is right, that there is a huge amount of ferment and change going on, and the future will look very different from the past.

We’ve been discussing Mere Churchianity with Nancy Rosback at Bend the Page and Fatha Frank at Public Christianity. Check their sites for more discussion.


Louise Gallagher said...

See, who knows how someone's words will move someone else?

You've moved me to read Spencer's book.

Thank you!

Maureen said...

Our little Episcopal parish has perhaps 300 members (and numbers are dwindling because many parishioners are elderly and dying). I can't imagine being in a church of 12,000.

My mother's side is Irish Catholic and English protestant and the divisiveness while she was growing up was what precluded our following any particular religion. The spiritual void was difficult, but I say that looking back. As I've mentioned before, I was not baptized till age 50. A lot played in the decision to choose the Episcopal faith. That selection, however, didn't stop the journey, because faith is tested continually and the movement along its path life-long.

Cassandra Frear said...

Yes. I notice this most with our young adults. They may have a sincere faith, but they feel no need to be inside a building with a steeple. Yet they are passionate about engaging with others in the marketplace of ideas and they care deeply about the quality of their walk with God.

Big changes are coming, Glynn. Really big ones.