I met a dear friend and former colleague for lunch today and we were catching each other up on our parishes and lives. She was talking about her young adult children and how none of them are being married in the Church, but are having their babies baptized. It made me think about the conversations (or lack thereof) that we've been having with our parishioners lately. What brings these people back for their children's baptisms? Why do they still bother, even while the bother of the onerous process of being married in the Church isn't worth the trouble? The parents of teenagers who gathered with me last week said "this is what we need: for our kids to have a good church." But the parents of very young children didn't even show up. Twice.
My friend and I talked about what people need from the Church, and what might be our future- I told her I've been thinking about how the people I've heard from who have left the Church, for the majority, didn't leave over dogmatic issues, or even in anger against the Church (although of course many have left for these reasons)- they've left in good part because they just don't see the need to pray, pay and obey, when they can just talk to God on their own.
They seem to have a faith and value their relationships with God, and not feel like they need a middleman to connect them. I said to my friend "maybe when the Church started teaching in earnest about love, we put ourselves out of business." I was certainly raised to know that God is everywhere, God loves us, forgives us when we are sorry, wants us in heaven, never leaves us. What if the problem is that everyone believes that now?
Okay, what if that's true? Maybe the Church needs to re-envision our role in the salvation process from that of dealer to... what? I heard a speaker once say "it's okay to think of the Church as a filling station- " a place that fuels your journey, clears your vision, keeps you healthy and running. Is it okay for the Church to be resource, rather than sole source? After all, we all still need to have our tanks filled. It might be a revolutionizing thing for our Church to have to work hard to appeal to people, to draw people in and offer them programs that fill them, feed them, fuel them. What would the Church look like if no one felt they were duty-bound to attend? It might look a lot like it does now... with parishes who are doing a good job of ministering finding success, and parishes who are relying on compulsory attendance losing members at a steady drip. Only, in twenty years our 4:00 people will be gone- who will replace them if we don't start reaching out?