Last night I heard a talk about why people are leaving mainline denominations in droves. The speaker, a recognized offical religious leader, gave the sociological reasons for decline and ended his talk with by describing spiritual hunger and his hope that this hunger would give the Church the fuel to be the Church. All in all, a good talk with gaps.
The speaker is a few years older than I, not much, but enough that he blew off his lack of technological curiosity. My bloggie readers can see that I'm not tech enough to hyperlink, know how to add pictures or do anything creative with media on this blog. However, I am aware of these gaps in my ability and intend to learn the basics. I need to be shown. When I find someone who will sit long enough to show me, I'll get it. Reading directions about tech stuff confuses me.
I mention this because I am aware that the world is changing quickly and technology is a key to this change. My world is larger because of the internet both in how I research issues as well as how I interact with a larger world without seeing my partners or hearing their voices.
One of his points was that people have moved their loyalty from denominations to local churches. Where before people were loyal to the Presbyterian Church, now they are loyal to their local flavor of presbyterianism. I've seen this coming. The larger Church is distant, institutional, difficult to navigate and huge.
What troubles me about this change in loyalty is that a strength of the larger Church is it's ability to do mission on a big scale and keep believers from investing their energies in a particular pastor. We've seen, throughout history, the problems with following a pastor rather than following a group. We Presbyterians, on paper, do a good job of not putting church members in a Jim Bakker/PTL Club kind of boundary-less cult of personality.
The problem with our traditional manner is that it is impersonal. We have no titular head whose leadership goes on for years and frames our lives together across the country. There is no single person to point to as the "flavor" of our Church. Nowadays, people want to feel connected to a person, not an institution. All the correctives of restraining a cult following of an individual are falling away.
I feel the shift under my feet of the old forms crumbling. Some days I think I am turning into an old fart bemoaning how great the past was. All older people think the younger generation is going to hell in a handbasket. Is this what I am sensing?
I don't think the past Church was great. It was exclusive in class, gender and race issues. The presence of God was supplanted by thinking about God. You had to know the language to participate. As a generational Presbyterian, even as a sixth generation Scottish immigrant, I, who could be a poster child for cradle Presbyterianism, felt excluded and can document exclusion.
But the new forms of church life? Will we be better off broken away from each other into smaller groups? I fear that schism is coming around the time that the report on the Peace and Purity of the Church Taskforce is published (Sept.15, 2005).