by Rev. Dr. Robert R. LaRochelle
Current data indicates that an increasing number of Americans identify themselves as ‘unchurched’. This includes not only those who, in their adult life, do not go to church, but also a great number who were not raised within a church tradition. While it seems to me that more conservative Christian churches have had considerable success attracting good numbers of these individuals, mainline churches, including those who identify as progressive, seem to lag behind. In my area of the country, this has certainly been my impression.
In a brief article, I cannot delve into all of the reasons or potential strategies for changing this situation. In considering the issue, however, I would like to make these suggestions:
- That local churches rethink how we go about getting the word out about our churches. A church’s social media presence is important and cannot be underestimated.
- That we recognize the reality that many couples, heterosexual or homosexual, come from ‘ mixed’ religious backgrounds. This includes many individuals who did not have a ‘churched’ upbringing. Resources such as my book A Home United published by Energion may be helpful in encouraging dialogue among those couples, a dialogue that can be extended out to others.
- That churches renew their commitment to adult education, while looking for creative ways to do it effectively. Sitting back in the church building and waiting for people to come may have been a great strategy in the 1950’s, but not anymore. We have to look for viable ways to be present in our communities.
- That local churches not shy away from talking to people about the unique spiritual resources to be found in their denominational identity. To do so is not to deny ecumenism. As a matter of fact, in my book Crossing the Street, also published by Energion, I contend that we benefit from knowledge of and exposure to a variety of worship traditions, including musical ones. It is simply to say that it is good for a Presbyterian to talk positively about the values of that tradition in presenting a church as attractive to those who know little about it. I would also note that within denominations you will find a depth of theology and theological discussion that should not be bypassed in the quest for ecclesiastical relevance.
Finally and, tying this all together, is my strong belief that churches have to get VERY INTENTIONAL about reaching out to the unchurched. My suggestion to the reader is that you do whatever you can to make this a real priority in your church. Do what you can to discuss and raise consciousness about this issue.
I would appreciate your comments!
Rev. Dr. Bob LaRochelle is Pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Windsor, Connecticut
Follow him on Twitter at @REVDRBOBL
Follow Christ the King Lutheran @CTKWindsor