You may be aware of the bad news about the church in America. The stories and statistics are all over the place for anyone who, in the words of scripture, “has ears to hear.”
While I am aware of the bad news of the church in the United States, I also ponder a quote from a former Mennonite World Conference leader who asked if we still believe that God is changing the world through the church. I want to answer yes, and an article in the current FULLER magazine may help to show the way. It started with the bad news:
- The number of adults who identify as Christian dropped from 78% to 71% between 2007 and 2014.
- No major Christian tradition is growing in the United States today.
- Most churches are aging as fewer persons 18-29 are going to church.
Fuller Theological Seminary, one of the world’s largest and most influential evangelical institutions, spent four years studying 250 churches who are unlocking the potential of teens and young adults. It seems to me these findings may have relevance for our discussion as a school.
The study found that churches that are growing young (as compared to aging congregations) strive to be best neighbors both locally and globally. These churches do not copy the surrounding culture, and they are not so different from it that they lose the ability to relate. The leaders said that their biggest challenge was keeping their church relevant.
Young people said church is relevant when it is generally outward focused. Service in the community matters!
Churches that neighbor well, according to the study, demonstrate a generous spirit in the face of differing opinions. It reminds me that opinions may be wrong but love never is!
When participants in growing younger congregations describe their church they are eight times more likely to mention diversity of beliefs in their church than similarities. In addition they place emphasis on essential beliefs that can be shared.
These churches seek to “make space for safe and honest dialogue so everyone—both young and old—can share their questions, beliefs and experiences.” They found this to be particularly true when discussing same sex questions which the article says is “one of the most fiercely contested topics in US churches today.”
The article ends affirming the assertion of my friend in Mennonite World Conference that God is still changing the world through the church. It quoted Aaron Graham, pastor of The District Church, from a sermon he titled, “Why Church?” In the sermon Graham said that “changing the world is best attempted through the defining, sustainable, Spirit-empowered work of a community of believers.” That sounds like the Bible!
Reading this article in a leading Christian publication affirmed for me the approaches I see us taking at Lancaster Mennonite and shows the strength of having students from diverse theological backgrounds.
We are shaped by our 15 spiritual practices, the shared convictions of Mennonite World Conference and a simple definition of our essential understandings which are:
- Jesus is the center of our faith.
- Community is the center of our life.
- Reconciliation is the center of our work.
Press here for the link to our Faith Practice Statements.