Bruce Gerenscer recently said something fascinating:
Mainline churches need a make-over. They need to make themselves relevant again. Perhaps they need to hire an ex-Baptist atheist like me to tell them how their church is viewed from the outside. (yes, perception matters)
I’ve never considered this idea before and at first it seemed a little odd, like asking for marriage advice from someone who is permanently single or parenting advice from people without kids. Certain experiences are difficult to grok if you’re not part of them. As a non-theist I only think about religious topics when they directly affect me or my loved ones.
The longer I think about it, though, the more I suspect Bruce may be onto something here.
Should non-theists tell theists what to believe? No. Or at least not so long as what they believe isn’t negatively affecting our lives (e.g. through legislation that discriminates against people based on religion or attempts to blur the line between church and state). And, to be honest, I don’t care about anyone’s theology until or unless it is used against people outside of that religion.
Can non-theists offer a fresh perspective on church culture? Absolutely. Once you become habituated to a routine it’s difficult to step back and see how some things come across to people who aren’t accustomed to them. To give a mundane example, Drew and I used to live in an apartment building with a finicky front door. You had to insert your key at just the right angle and then jiggle it to get the door to open. People who didn’t know how this door worked could become pretty frustrated. Once you figured out the secret, though, it became second nature. When we moved to a new building I had to train myself to stop jiggling the key. It was no longer necessary.
Sometimes religious gatherings can be like that lock. Visitors don’t know, cannot know all of the quirks of a particular congregation. This isn’t always a bad thing. Discovering the quirks of a small group can be one of the most pleasurable aspects of getting to know new people. I find it really interesting to figure out who is the village peacemaker, jester, shit-stirrer or story-teller. But if there are too many things to figure out new members might give up before they figure out how or if they belong. This is where an outside consultant could come in handy.
I’ll be continuing this conversation on Thursday. In the meantime what do you think? Is Bruce’s idea a good one?
A good idea from the point of view of the churches. (Have you read Hemant Mehta’s book, “I Sold My Soul on Ebay” where he visited and reviewed multiple churches?)
From my point of view, as somebody who wants as many people as possible to get up and walk out of their churches, I’m not sure I want the churches to make themselves relevant. I’m cheering on the Catholic Bishops who appear set on making their chuch as irrelevant, harsh, dogmatic and unwelcoming as possible. Keep it up, and you’ll make lots and lots of ex-catholics. Yay!
No, I haven’t read that book yet. It’s on my to-read list, though!
I’m not sure where you’re from but the church scene is really interesting here in Toronto. There are churches but (at least in my neighbourhood) people don’t talk about religion or assume you’re a Christian. It’s so different from the small, conservative, midwestern U.S. town I grew up in where these things were definitely assumed.
On a more individual level, I’m seeing big changes in the religious affiliations on both my and my husband’s sides of the family. The older generations are extremely religious. Middle aged relatives are a mixed bag – some are, some aren’t. With a few exceptions the under-35 crowd seems to be culturally Christian only, apathetic or non-theist.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next 20 years.
But I think some Christian theology has better outcome than others.
Here is my list of My Favorite Christian Theology — I break it into categories.
[…] A continuation of Monday’s post. […]