In USA Today last week, Oliver Thomas penned an interesting editorial discussing the challenges for mainline Protestants in the coming decades.
I won’t steal the author’s thunder if you would like to read the entire piece, but in a nutshell Thomas summarizes what many of us already know – that church attendance is declining among young adults particularly among traditional denominationally-organized congregations. He points out that mainline Protestant leaders were instrumental in significant 20th century social progress including civil rights and stronger environmental regulations.
As the quest for general spiritual connectedness competes with allegiance to a particular denomination – or faith — the question then becomes how do these churches appeal to changing needs and wants?
Thomas tosses out some hot button issues such as the acceptance of gay clergy and marriage, a dispute which is currently causing much debate in the Lutheran and Episcopal churches. What he hits on which is far less controversial is the notion of a service-based model to attract young people eager to help but perhaps without the needed direction.
“Then, there’s the fact that these churches seem to get the connection between peacemaking and poverty,” Thomas wrote. “Remember Micah, the Old Testament prophet who foretold a time when nations would ‘beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks’? (Micah 4:1-5) That happens, says Micah, when each person shall sit under his own vine and fig tree. In other words, there can be no lasting peace until each person has the opportunity to partake in the world’s prosperity.
“Teenagers get this. They line up at my church to volunteer to build Habitat houses, serve meals and go on all sorts of mission trips. The churches that can help members tap into the joy that comes from service to others are churches with a future.”
That is a model and a concept worth considering.