“Do not say, ‘Why were former days better than these?’”
Dear Members and Friends,
It’s fashionable to say that other generations had, or have, it easy. “Boomers” and “Millennials” take most of the flack. But in a short video on Instagram, a 20-year old kid (“Gen Z”) asks ponderously, “Who let Gen X off the hook? Why aren’t we talking about those guys?” The camera shifts to the kitchen of a woman, about my age, who replies testily while putting away groceries. “Because, sir, we will [*] mess you up. We fought in real life, not on the internet. We are the last generation of feral children. We did not have safe spaces. We did not have trigger warnings. No one was allergic to [*] gluten. We mind our own business. We are older than Google. We are NOT the bigger person. Leave us alone.” (*Indicates a Gen X-style expletive; use your imagination.)
Each generation seems to believe that their own lot is the hardest. But truly, no generation of pastors had a harder lot than the one we have today! Can I cry on your shoulder? Please? Just for minute? Church was already going out of style before the word “Christian” became a political weapon. Prior to the pandemic, churches were already struggling with a lack of people and money. Bower Hill was the envy of other pastors; we got by pretty well. But then COVID-19 hit. Now we’ve created a study group to address issues in the post-pandemic church…which are these:
Many active church members died during the pandemic–though few died from the virus itself. Many more just dropped the churchgoing habit. At first they watched our Sunday broadcasts, but after a few months, even that evaporated. Giving is still strong, but weekly in-person attendance is less than half of what it was in 2019. Many who used to attend worship once a week now come once a month. Others who came once a month now show up a few times a year. Many disappeared altogether. You might say, “If giving is good, then mission and ministry still happen; where’s the problem?” But how long will people keep giving money to a church they no longer attend?
Poor attendance causes more poor attendance. Say you visit a church. There are 60 people in a room designed for 450. When the crowd is small, the singing is bad; the energy is low. The place has a dismal feel. Are you going to return to that church? Most visitors to Bower Hill in the past two years have never returned. Or imagine this: You come to church to see your friends. The preaching and music are fine, but your main interest is the sense of community you always found there. But now you only come once a month, and your friends only come once a month, and you rarely show up on the same Sunday. As a result, you no longer find your people, “your community,” at church. How much longer are you going to keep trying? It becomes a vicious cycle: the less one person attends, the less others attend.
I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty. I sympathize. There’s so much on the buffet of life these days, and church is now a side dish…a healthy one, to be sure…but one with a slightly old-fashioned flavor. Maybe in the next newsletter I’ll make a case for why church is good for you. But today I simply issue this call: Come back. If you are able to take part in regular in-person worship, but you’ve simply fallen out of the habit, you need to come back. It will be good for you, for your family, and for your church.