For a decade or more there has been way too much angst over the question of church growth. Unless a congregation was growing Sunday by Sunday it was deemed to be symptomatic of a dying Christianity. It seems to me that there are two things wrong with that. First, above all, we who are called to be leaders in the church are given the duty of boldly proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ Jesus. That, and not counting, is our primary obligation. Having said that, I confess that I’m just like anyone else and like to look at the number the ushers give me, dutifully enter it in a book, and report on it to the diocese at year-end. The second problem has more to do with local demographics. For instance, the community I live in has grown very little over the decades. It’s a slow moving river of new arrivals barely outpacing recent departures. But two things have changed. The dominant ethnic influx is Hispanic not Anglo. The choice of denominations and congregations has exploded.
In past generations there were a handful of congregations representing the main American denominations of Protestants and Catholics. Everyone was expected to affiliate with one of them, just as everyone was expected to also join a local service club or fraternal organization. It’s just what one did. Now we have a multitude of congregations representing not only the old, but also whatever new twist or opportunistic endeavor can be imagined. The same number of people are given an enormous choice of worship opportunities in more varieties that Campbell’s has soup. On top of that is the absence of any cultural expectation that anyone must affiliate with any religion or belong to any civic organization in order to be an acceptable citizen of the community.
Boldly proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ, and in my case, according to the Anglican traditions of the Episcopal Church, is the appropriate response. Growth may come or growth may not, but the Word will be boldly proclaimed. But what bold proclamation means needs further examination. Of course it has to include bold, effective preaching, as well as comprehensive Christian education. However, it also has to include bold use of the best and most effective vehicles of communication with congregants and the broader community. That does not have to mean throwing hymns up on a projection screen. It does have to mean knowing how, where and through what the emerging majority get their information, how they process it, and how they make decisions using it. It also has to mean that clergy, and other congregational leaders, cannot be egotistically stubborn about not knowing or using those vehicles. And maybe that’s enough to get some conversation started.