Our church is changing before our very own eyes, and depending on your set of eyes, you may be seeing things a different way. If you are a long-time member like me, you notice that things are not the same compared to the past. The senior minister, in his 40's, invites rap music artists to perform during worship service. Sermons tend to be visceral, soulful, and poetic food for the heart, rather than intellectually challenging food for the head. There are no more joys and sorrows, we now sing to our children as they go to their classrooms, and sing Spirit of Life in Spanish. After a long hiatus, covenant groups are back.
But if you are a newer to the church, you are seeing things for the first time. And there are LOTS of new people, seeing things for the first time. Lots of new, young people. We just recently signed in 82 new members, and newcomers are entering the church at a pace we have not seen since 9/11.
Are all these changes good or bad? What does this change mean for the future of our church?
Most UU churches are losing members-- consistent trend for the category known as mainline Protestant churches. In fact mainline Protestant churches have declined at a faster rate than any other Christian group, including Catholics and Evangelical Protestants. The average mainline Protestant church is declining 2% a year-- and this is true for UU churches as well. The Pew research points out that there is a relationship between age and decline. The average age is getting older because the younger generation is not joining at the same rate the older generation is leaving. (See Pew research Study here). This is what I would call a generational replacement deficit.
Research by David Roozen from Faith Communities Today (FACTS) suggests that churches whose average age is younger grow at a more accelerated rate. Roozen, in his report, goes on to describe the profile of the growing church-- less than one-third of its members are seniors, at least fifteen percent of members are young adults, and there is "very much" innovation in worship service.
All of this points to the fact that if we want to grow, we must enhance our efforts to attract the next generation of members. That is an easy thing to say, but harder to do. One obvious place to start is to be open to change. A church cannot grow without change. Growth is not a perfect linear path. Whereas decline is often slow and steady, growth is more bumpy, because growth requires encounters with the new and the unfamiliar. To grow is to change.
This month's theme is "transformation". This is a good month to consider the bumpy ride a shiny chrysalis goes through to become a butterfly.
Roseann Cash said, "The key to change... is to let go of fear." That's easier to do when we are all on the same team, when we are supporting each other, when we are in covenant with one another. Let's be courageous together, be open to change, grow our spirit, and serve others. And... be bumpy.