Here are two more changes I see in the prevailing western culture to which the church may be well served to pay attention.

4. There are now multiple options that help people connect with an awareness of the divine and by which they gain access to the deep wisdom of spiritual tradition.

Church is now only one option among many for people to open to an awareness of the deep mystery and beauty of transcendence.

Formal worship in a church setting is no longer the primary means by which many people experience a genuine opening to the presence of God at work in their lives and in the world. We live in a world that offers a vast smorgasbord of spiritual options from which to choose in seeking nurture for the journey of life. Churches can rail against the reality of diversity or find common ground with those who experience the presence of the divine through different mediums and seek to be supportive of truth wherever it can be discerned.

Many of the alternative spiritualities out there in the marketplace do not carry the same amount of baggage that inevitably accrues to an institution that has been around for as long as the established church. This makes some of the alternatives to church more attractive to people who feel burdened by our often painful history. In the church we need to understand that there can be good reasons for people to seek inspiration and nurture outside traditional religious settings. We need to be sensitive to the real concerns these genuine spiritual seekers represent and listen carefully to what their alternative paths may have to teach us about how to do church within the context in which we are currently located.

5. The patterns of community have changed.

In the town in which I grew up years ago, community for many people meant showing up in church Sunday morning… every Sunday morning. The local priest was a figure in the wider community and was called upon to fill a public role on most civic occasions.

The church today is one possible expression of community. There are multitudes of ways to spend Sunday morning. And, increasingly people form community around interests, concerns, and activities in which they experience a shared sense of meaning and purpose. People find genuine connection through social media and the interactions that are possible around the globe through cyber-connections that are experienced as real and meaningful.

No one needs to depend upon the church any longer for a sense of community. Connection comes now in many forms. If we are going to compete for a share of the community market, we are going to need to make sure that the sense of connection we offer is genuine, authentic and meaningful. A younger demographic is less likely to consider serving on a committee to be the meaningful manifestation of community it was once experienced as for many people.

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The changes that have taken place in western culture over the past fifty years are real and they are important.

We can ignore these realities; we can resist them, denounce them, and lament or condemn them. We can mount a rearguard action and fight to return to the past. But we cannot deny that the world we live in has experienced a massive shift.

We must pay attention to the circumstances within which we are called upon to be church.

 

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