It's a Great Time to Be The Church

by Pastor Amy Odgren

Last Tuesday's "Family Feud" was a real doozy.  The Sass family, of Stockton, California needed a mere 18 points to score 200 in the final round and secure $20,000.  That pretty much meant that all Anna Sass had to do was utter just one semi-popular answer among the five poll questions that host Steve Harvey asked her to complete.  Poor Anna failed to score even one point and her family had to leave with only consolation gifts.  What struck me, however, wasn't so much Anna's minor tragedy as the answer to the second question she was asked: "Name a place where people check their watch."  She said "airport," an answer already taken, then she responded with "restaurant," an answer that yielded - you guessed it - no points. The number one answer?  A tie between the doctor's office and church. That's right, "church" makes it onto the Family Feud as the place most people surveyed assume folks check their watch.

Yikes!  Just in case we wondered whether church was a little dull...or maybe we don't wonder. Maybe we just accept it.  But if you're not born into the generation of duty, where you go to church whether you like it or not because you know you should, then the question becomes, "What do we do about it?" What might we change, risk, gamble on, play with in order to invite people who don't assume being bored for an hour is a virtue?  Or, to put it more simply, what might we change so that some of the people we love who don't come to church might come and find it engaging? 

Our bishop, Bishop Rick Hoyme, postulated a similar question at our recent Synod Assembly.  He challenged those in attendance to think about their own family members - maybe it's our children, our grandchildren, our brothers or sisters - we all have people in our own families - people whom we love, who don't attend church - and what are we doing about it?

A generation or two ago, going to church on Sunday mornings was the preferred, if not assumed, activity among large segments of the U.S. population.  That is simply no longer the case. There is no great cultural incentive or expectation to attend church on Sunday morning; stores no longer remain closed until late in the day, and all kinds of other activities - including, notably, youth sports - are now part of our weekend reality. Which means we can't just assume people will come. We can't even assume they know why anyone should go to church, let alone why they should.

We must recognize that in the very busy lives of Twenty-First Century people, they have many options for how they will spend their time, try to make meaning, and establish their identity. Church is simply no longer an assumption.  It seems to me that we need to emphasize what is distinct and valuable about congregational life and make it as easy as possible for people to enter our communities and discover the particular and distinctive treasure we have to offer: the good news that in Jesus, God pronounces each one of us blessed and beloved children of God deserving of dignity and respect; that our worth isn't established by what we've accumulated, achieved, or done - or, negatively, by what has been done to us - but by God's gracious regard alone; and that we each have gifts that God wants to use to care for the health of this world that God loves so much.

But rather than think creatively about how to lift up this message in a world where so many different options compete for the time and attention of people, we often continue to do things pretty much the way we always have, and then hope for a different outcome.  I don't have the answers…we're all in this together…but I do think that it's a new day and the church universal is in the middle of a Spirit led transformation.

First Lutheran and Our Savior's Lutheran are working together to imagine a new way of being the church.  We're putting our trust in the One who promises us new life and life abundant.  This is a time when checking our own watch is (hopefully) no longer a practice in which we participate.  This is God's time…this isn't a time to settle into the ways in which we have always done things before.  Imagine what people who don't know us say about our behavior, our hopes and our dreams.  We are in the midst of the "new day" of being church-cooperation and joint mission.  It's a great time to be the church!  -AO