I imagine one might ask, and rightly so, how it is that an almost 64 year old recently retired Deacon would be invited to share some thoughts on a forum like Brave New Church.
Where to begin? How about with 37 years in congregational youth and family ministry, during which I have been, and continue to be, a strong advocate for change. Since my earliest days in ministry I have had a passion for the congregation as the primary vehicle for faith formation, the center of a myriad of wonderful and helpful ministry centers in people's lives.
So much has changed during this time. Let’s be honest, pretty much everything has changed. And lately it seems that the pace of change rockets along at ever more blinding speeds.
So here we, the church, find ourselves in a very uncomfortable place. We hear the bad news: The number of Americans who describe themselves as Christian is in free fall. Millennials are not choosing to connect to institutions, including the church. Families that once attended an average of twice a month now average once every 6 weeks. And recently, the fairly new phenomenon of the rise of the “dones” is proving to have some legs - older, more seasoned churchgoers who spent their whole lives in the church are leaving faster than ever - and not joining another congregation. On and on it goes. How does the church begin to deal with the flipped culture we find ourselves in?
Honestly, we have very little idea what we should or should not be doing.
However; my experience in initiatives such as Practice Discipleship, Public Church and Peer Ministry Leadership have made it clear that doing nothing or maintaining a business-as-usual approach to these challenges is simply not the answer. Which leaves only Option B...which is to change.
Change in big ways and small ways.
Leadership styles must change. The attitudes of the average congregational member must change. The way we equip and train people must change. We have a monumental challenge before us as church in America. Left as is we have no future - so my bias is to shout from the rooftops the necessity of change before it is too late and while we still have the resources to do so.
Because, the truth is, there's still time.
There is time for change to take place. We do have the resources needed to affect the kinds of change these difficult times are calling us into. I believe in the congregation and its’ ability to overcome the challenges before us. I call for the kind of all-out effort needed to train, equip and motivate the church toward the changes dictated by modern realities.
One way or another, Christ's church will continue its mission - and its ministry - in today's Brave New World. But if we want to be a part of this mission, it will demand some hard choices, and some radical new imagination, for a new age.
Together, a new future is possible.
Donald (The Don) Marsh is a rostered Deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the founder of Service Learning Camps and a National Training Associate at Peer Ministry Leadership.