I am often amazed when I hear that the Church, including the Episcopal Church, is in decline. Amazed, because here at St. Bart's we are growing. So, what is it that we are doing right and, well, others not so right.
One of the greatest challenges the Church faces today is ministering in a multi-religious, multicultural America in which the fastest growing groups are not religious, not Christian or Jew as it once was.
There is a revolution going on, the average American is likely to be Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Shinto, or even New Age, as they are to be Christian.
More importantly, many Americans (over 10% and growing) consider themselves as “spiritual but not religious” or even “spiritual but secular.”
In fact, according to a recent PEW report, almost twenty percent of Americans now see themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nones” (having no religion at all).
This large group does not believe that any religion has all the answers and they find “exclusive truth” to be offensive to them and yes I said it; politically incorrect.”
So, a fair question to ask today is how do we reach these growing secular and pluralistic groups? How do we proclaim the Gospel in today's environment?
In a recent conversation I had with a fellow clergyman and friend, he told me the story of Tom Bandy. Tom is one of the mainline churches future thinkers.
Here’s what Tom says. “the greatest challenge to the church in the 21st century is how to do Christian ministry in an increasingly multi-religious world. "
About 20 years ago, Bandy reported on a university study on the impact of multicultural growth on participation in religious institutions. The study, which focused on the “Golden Horseshoe” region in Canada from Toronto to Niagara Falls, concluded that the more multicultural a community becomes, the fewer people actively participate in organized religion. Why?
Because religion is the #1 flashpoint for social chaos, and people just want to live in peace with their neighbors. The "let’s not talk about it" syndrome.
Because the more people appreciate other points of view, the less convinced they are that their old religious institutions have all the answers.
Because religious institutions don’t do enough to adapt and partner with other organizations in the community. The old question: “If my church was gone would the community miss it?”
The more multicultural and multi-religious our world becomes, the more likely people will consider traditional religious institutions, like our churches, less significant.
It's clear to me that something is happening in our culture which is unlike anything that has happened before. In fact, I believe we are in the midst of a new Reformation of sorts.
Here is the challenge for the church: from the time of the New Testament onward, Christianity has always been an exclusivist religion. In fact, in the early church, we were looked on as Cannibals eating the body and blood of Christ.
The real question is who did Jesus die for? In my, the way to reach these nonreligious groups is in proclaiming that He died for all of us. No matter who you are, where you came from or what you did you are included, and you don’t have to do anything to be included. It's as Luther found out when he fell on his knees that evening around 1517; we are all saved by God’s grace.
Yup, I think that's it. We include everyone here at St Bart's. All are welcome no exceptions. We practice an inclusive Christianity - not exclusive.
We are building for the future, so we can partner with other community organizations who can use our facilities and campus for larger organizations with easy access.
Yeah. That’s why we are growing, we are inclusive, building for the future, partnering with the community and we can answer the question; “if we were gone today would the community miss us”. The answer - yes, now and for future generations once we build the new campus. What do you think?