Evangelism? Part II
Where were we before I was interrupted by Ash Wednesday? Evangelism. In a previous note I suggested that we might want to think and talk a bit about evangelism, the Christian calling to invite people into our faith and our church. I said that evangelism is hard for churches like ours, in part because we might have bad cultural or political associations with evangelicals, and in part because we might not like talking about personal things with strangers. And, I noted, I am also a coward.
At the end of that message, I also wondered to whom we should be reaching out. Christianity, and religion in general, faces a very different market than it did a few decades ago. In the heyday of American mainline Protestant churches like Cleveland Park, religious institutions were widely respected in society, even by non-believers. It was sort of assumed that most people would be part of a church (or synagogue)—again, sometimes including non-believers.
Today, for a variety of reasons, not so much. A lot of people see themselves as “spiritual but not religious”—a group that sociologists have labeled the Nones. They may think of themselves as Christians, but they don’t feel they need a church to believe. And there’s a lot of people who have a problem with the institutional church. They might see it as corrupt, abusive, money-grubbing, or too political. This reflects a common view of other institutions in our society—politics, business, the media, etc. People don’t have faith in institutions. A recent article in the Post said that confidence in religious institutions has dropped from 65% to 41% between 1973 and 2016. Other institutions—Congress, the criminal justice system, schools, banks, big business—have done worse. The church comes in third, behind the military and the police.
This does not mean that people don’t believe. Surveys suggest that belief in God has remained fairly consistent even as church participation has dropped. And it does not mean that people don’t need or want what the church provides. They want community. They want places where they can ask hard questions. They want places where their kids can find a non-judgmental home.
These folks—of whatever generation or class—are seeking God, not church, God, not a religious institution. The challenge for Cleveland Park and other communities of faith is to tell our story in a way that focuses on faith and experiences, not on institution. Instead of saying, “Hey, we’re a great church!” (though we are), we need to say, “We are a group of people who want to help you think about your questions and live your life.” How can we shape our communications and our programs to focus not on our institution or our God language but on our people and our God? There’s another topic for discussion.
EVENTS & ANNOUNCEMENTS
Volunteers Needed for One Sunday or Several—We have slots open this spring to help our our lead Sunday School teacher – and to read scripture, host coffee, donate flowers, or be a greeter. You can sign up using the links, use the sign up sheet in the parlor, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
Lenten Supper and Service, 3/16—Join Pastor Ellen TONIGHT at Plymouth Congregational UCC, an historic African American congregation on N. Capitol St. in DC, for an evening of fellowship and teaching. Dinner begins at 6:00 and Ellen will preach at the 7:00 pm service. www.plymouth-ucc.org.
Visitor Session. 3/19—There will be an information session this Sunday for anyone who’d like to learn more about our congregation, please join Pastor Ellen in the Library after worship. All are welcome!
Dinner and a Movie, 3/31— When a reporter meets a talented but homeless musician, he thinks he’s found a great story. Instead, the musician has real hopes and demons, and changing his life will challenge them both. We’ll talk about stories, demons, and doing good. The Soloist (2009) stars Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. Simple supper at 6:30 PM and film at 7 PM. Please sign up in the parlor or at email@example.com by Wednesday, 3/29.
Coffee Hour Conversation: Transgender in These Times, 4/2— LJ Ingram, Chair of the Potomac Association’s LGBTQ Task Force and a transgender woman, will lead us in a discussion about transgender issues. She’ll share stories from her personal journey and suggest a variety of ways that we, as allies, can support and advocate for transgender individuals in our churches, schools, workplace and world.
Maundy Thursday Service, 4/13—Join us for a 7:00 pm service of Communion and Tenebrae (Latin for “shadows,” in honor of Christ’s Passion). This Holy Week Service will bring us together to celebrate Jesus’s Last Supper and New Commandment (“Love One Another”) and to commemorate his death at Calvary. If you’d like to read one of the parts in the Passion Story, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.