It interested me because I love the Catholic Church and I want it to succeed. I love churches of many denominations and want them to succeed.
Lots of churches are gaining new members but many are not. What we once called “mainline” churches we now call “old line” churches. The classic denominations are especially threatened by declining strength. For 48 years I have been an enthusiast for the whole church and for my own Methodist tradition.
I’m not much motivated by survival as a goal for our historic denominations. I want our churches to thrive. Why? Because when congregations are at their best, they are wonderful instruments by which God’s love is made known in the world. The church is a divine institution. But it is also a very human institution and can become flawed and out of sync with its original, divine vision and purpose.
Father Byron tells about a woman’s tense encounter with a parish receptionist. The woman wanted an appointment with her priest to discuss her feelings about how she had lost “the Catholic church I grew up with.” The receptionist kept pushing for details, but the caller wanted to discuss the details only with the priest. Finally, the receptionist said, “Well, look, when you figure out what your problem is, call us back and we’ll give you an appointment.”
Most priests and pastors cringe at stories like this. Most church receptionists cringe, too. Like all of us, receptionists can occasionally have bad days. But stuff happens and churches need constantly to be considering what causes folk to leave their church pews. Some who have been members of their churches 70 years or more confide in me that they are hanging on by their spiritual fingernails. On the other hand, others are excited about their church life and are filled with vision and high levels of satisfaction.
I would like to do a little unscientific research this week through this column. I would like for you, dear readers, to react to one or more of the following questions: (1) If you have left the membership of a church in recent years, why? (2) If you have joined a church recently, why? (3) If you remain a contented member of a church, what are some aspects of your church that bring you great satisfaction and joy? (4) If you have not invited another person to visit your church this year, why not? (5) What might motivate you to invite a friend to visit your church? (6) If you are not a Christian believer, what is the biggest barrier to you becoming one?
I know that loads of you folk are leaders in your churches. This little survey might bring a few insights into how to increase your churches’ effectiveness. I want your church to thrive. We have recently come through the season of Lent and the joy of Easter! It was a time of personal introspection and renewal. Why not spend some quality time now reflecting on your church and its vital signs?