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The spot for the good news, the good word, the quick reports of the many, many wonderful news items I hear all the time and want to share with the rest of you. Expect to find the good news when you come to check out "what’s the good word?"

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Post-Congregational

There is a very interesting phenomenon going on these days. It keeps growing, and pushing its way into my consciousness and I can no longer ignore it. For the sake of this discussion, I will refer to this as a “post-congregational” development.

Have you noticed how many people there are these days who are church members that clearly value their denominational membership but are not part of a congregation? I find this a very interesting development. Such a situation would have been almost unthinkable a mere 50 years ago. Such people would have been dismissed as back-sliders, or apostates. In many denominations their names would have been (and still are) removed from the membership records. Now, however, there are thousands of people in this situation.

No description of this group will fit everyone, and those I am talking about here may be merely a subgroup of a larger movement, but what I have observed is that many congregationless people continue to have a real relationship with the church, and sometimes on more than one level. For example, some truly love the world church, its leadership, or its theological positions, and want to be part of a body that seeks to become a world-wide, prophetic movement. Others value the fellowship and sense of community they find at reunions or family camps. Many may even contribute tithing to the church, they simply do not attend a congregation.

When I ask such people why they do not participate in a local church, there are often a variety of reasons given. In some cases, people’s lives may have taken them to a place where there is no congregation near (or near enough), however such people are in the minority. Whether you can accept it or not, the answer I hear most often is that the congregational programming “simply does not meet my needs.” When I probe a little deeper, often people report having attended once and feeling unwelcome, not included, or centred out. Young adults in this age group sometimes tell me there was nobody else their age. Often such people are unwilling to give a congregation a second chance.

Lest you write this group off too quickly as “flakey” or self-absorbed,” let me hasten to add that, in my experience, these are usually deeply spiritual people. It is not unusual for such people to feel they have grown spiritually to a point where they will not waste their time on programming they see as inadequate.

My purpose here is not at all to judge this phenomenon or the people whom it represents, but rather to highlight the need to understand it. The point is simply that there are a lot of people who might now be described as post-congregational. They are denomination members who don’t have a local church, and are no longer looking for one. In fact, in any given Eastern Canadian city, there are far more members who do not attend a congregation than people who do! Is this the future? Are we moving into a post-congregational age? What might that look like? How would it operate? I confess, I do not know the answers, but I find the phenomenon fascinating!

Posted by Carman

10 comments:

  1. I find this an interesting concept for two reasons. I rarely attend a COC congregation anymore because I am also a member of the United Church where I am attending seminary to become a minister. This happened because of the homophobia I experienced in COC, and I was unable to reconcile the church's view on queer folks (up until recently) and my friends and family. Yet I am still a member of a fantastic congregation that loves and supports me.
    At the same time, I'm watching the same thing happen in the united church and its bringing up lots of conversations around what will happen post-congregationally. Many churches are selling off their buildings (Now worth millions of dollars in some areas) and amalgamating and then using the money or the property to set up senior residences, homeless shelters etc. Though I love the idea of congregation I'm also excited about the possibility of truly living out a Jesus-centered life in ways that will be more attune to our communities and less elite among our own ranks.

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  2. Dear Carman and Good News Followers

    We are only at the start of replanting a congregation here in Barrie, and I’ve thought about this phenomenon much. We’ve been charged with the responsibility of reaching out to post-congregational people. When people inquire how many member we do we have, they are amazed by the number. There are a little more than 100 Community of Christ members register to Barrie Congregation. I’m sure they know 100 isn’t the number of active members looking to help start a new church in their community or even the number of people willing to come out to see what is new.
    This Christmas, I sent out 100 postcards with a Cheery Christmas message to introduce myself. 25 postcards were returned back to my home address and no one contacted us to say they were waiting for us.
    My initial impression is these people don’t want to be “found” and we must be wasting our time and resources thinking there is even one lost sheep out there. Then I remember I was a lost sheep once, wandering pretty far away from home, and didn’t return to church until one day a stranger called me up.
    I wonder how these people were allowed to stray so far away from the congregation. I think the congregation must have felt insulted when some of them stop attending which resulted in a breakdown of communication. Whatever the reason is, we still are missing these people and I would love a chance to talk them. I pray God will guide us together.

    GB, Matthew

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  3. Property, thank you for your contribution on this topic. There are many reasons why people have chosen to be "post-congregational," and I am quite certain that hurts and disappointments figure prominently on the list. At the same time, you have also clearly illustrated the point that people who choose not to attend a given congregation usually remain deeply committed to their relationship with God, and look for meaningful ways to serve. Thank you!

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  4. Matthew,
    I appreciate the quality of thinking you have shown in discussing this matter. We are often too quick to write people off in matters of faith without really understanding why they have responded, or not responded, in a certain way. It would have been unusual if people had contacted you after receiving one postcard. Things do not generally work that way. Some may have checked out your website or Facebook page, however. Keep up the good work.

    You are also charged with inviting new people who need help in forming or building their relationship with God. You have a big job!

    By the way, Merry (Russian)Christmas to you and your spouse!

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  5. The Unitarian Universalist church has an interesting program (and has for more than 50 years) for members who cannot get to a church for one reason or another. For some, it's geographical -- there is no local church. For others, there is a barrier that keeps them from attending their nearest church, perhaps like something Property experienced.

    Church of the Larger Fellowship (http://clf.uua.org/)offers resources for these people to conduct worship on their own. From recorded sermons, to Sunday School curriculum, to an online spot for discussion, debate, fellowship.

    An interesting idea, no? Since, as you say, there are loads of reasons why these people no longer attend weekly services.

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  6. Dave, this is a great ministry idea. The fact that they have been doing this so long suggests that the resources offered are well received. The program would have pre-dated internet, so presumably it was offered by mail for most of that time, and perhaps still is. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. hi Carman!

    i too was once one of those lost sheep until someone called me up and brought me back... i feel that close personal contact with the folks who don't attend is still essential to our loving community...

    having said that i find myself in a spot because i am finding that corporate worship experiences are not meeting my needs because i don't understand what is going on... i attend because that is what is expected and my family appreciates it. i prefer to use the other 313 days of the year to try to bring ministry, reach out to some of those "post congregationalists and do the things Jesus calls me to do. i work out my church life, ministry and calling in those ways!

    but contact is vitally important... i wouldn't want to feel cut off either! however, we need to have room for those who find that a traditional congregation cannot meet their needs... the camping community is one way, online ministries is another way. too bad our church seems to be trying to hide the cybercongregation and doesn't seem interested in finding ways to make online ministries become real congregations! i get more from an online ministry, and this blog is a great example of an online ministry, than i do in a traditional worship setting that i cannot understand!

    blessing of peace to you, my friend! keep the great blog posts coming!

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  8. may i repost your blog post on the cybercongregation?

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  9. Anonymous, thank you so much for your contribution to this conversation. I especially appreciate your comment, 'i prefer to use the other 313 days of the year to try to bring ministry, reach out to some of those "post congregationalists and do the things Jesus calls me to do.' Thank you! Clearly you "get" what Christianity is all about.

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  10. P.s. I see no problem in reposting this blog to the cybercongregation. Thank you for checking.

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