The most recent issue of The Christian Chronicle, contains an excellent editorial by Bobby Ross, Jr. He’s commenting on a survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (If you have time to kill, follow the link and check out all of the interesting surveys, polls, and descriptions of American religious life.) In particular he comments on a finding from the US Religious Landscape Survey that says about 44% of Americans have changed religions from the one in which they were raised (if they were raised in one at all).
That means that nearly half of the American public will change their religious affiliation at some point in their lifetime. He notes that Churches of Christ are not exempt from this. A recent survey conducted by the Harding Center for Church Growth estimates that only 60% of those who grew up in the Churches of Christ remain with the CoC into adulthood. Further, he astutely asserts that, if we were to investigate the numbers of people who have changed churches rather than denominations, the number would sky rocket.
So how do we react to this? Ross notes two reactions. I can identify with both of them.
One possible response is worry, anger and blame. He has a quote from a minister who attributes the shifts in membership to a younger generation that is short on commitment and tall on selfishness. They leave because they are looking for whatever scratches their particular itch.
I hate to say that I understand this impulse all too well. As a minister, I worry far too much about people coming and going. I especially take it personally whenever someone leaves our church to go to another local church. I wonder why they choose “that” church over our church. What does that church have that we don’t? In my worst moments I get defensive. I tell myself that “those people” don’t know how to commit.
Let me be clear. I don’t like this reaction. I try not to worry about it too much, because I think that, for me at least, it’s just part of being me—occasionally insecure and defensive. It’s become a good opportunity for honest, confessional prayer.
I prefer the other response that Ross points to. He includes a quote from Jeff Foster that is worth repeating:
People, by and large, are starved for a faith that is genuine and relational-based rather than institutional and traditional…People want to know Christ, not simply know about Christ.
Wow. He’s right. My best response—one that comes through God’s grace—is to remember what truly matters. It’s not our job to get more members. It’s not our job to create institutional loyalty. It’s not our mission to build the “Church of Christ.” It is our rather important task to introduce people to Jesus, and, as difficult as it may be for someone as neurotic as myself, let God worry about numbers and transfers.
After all, our mission is “Changing Lives through Jesus,” not “Engineering Brand Loyalty.” I wonder what would happen if we were to take Jesus’ advice and “Seek first his Kingdom” (Matthew 6:33).