Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ditch the religion? (continued)

I am attending our regional church professional leaders’ conference. Like most of these events the past ten or twenty years, the focus of this one is on church renewal. In this case the buzz word is “reimaging” the church. I’ll have a fuller post later in the week when I’m home.

The speakers and conversation have made me think more about my earlier post about branding Buddhism. Overall, church membership is declining rapidly. Congregational innovation (of whatever kind) is leading some churches to succeed but only at the expense of others. It’s simply the case that fewer people are interested in belonging to a religious organization, whatever its size, shape or flavor. Yet surveys, reports and personal experience show that interest in spirituality and some traditional religious activities remain.

So, as I asked in the earlier post, is religionless Christianity a possibility? Is this the “new thing” that we need to be looking at or is it in fact already beginning to happen? For traditional Christians, of course, this is practically beyond comprehension. Whatever could it mean?

Here are some quick “back of the envelope” thoughts and fantasies. In particular I am wondering about existing congregations transitioning into something new, something other. So here is an outline for church reimaged as a non-sectarian provider of spiritual services. Feedback is welcome and appreciated.
  • Churches become community spirituality centers. The existing congregation would be one user of the space. Other congregations could also meet there. This takes advantage of existing church buildings, many grossly underutilized. It could also facilitate the preservation of architecturally or historically significant buildings.
  • The center could be incorporated as a separate nonprofit organization. The congregation could donate its building to the center in exchange for free and priority use of space for a set number of years.
  • A variety of services and programs are offered, open to anyone, on a fee-for-service basis.
  • These could include: counseling services, yoga and meditation classes, 12-step and support groups, book and arts groups, studio and gallery space, rehearsal and performance space, youth activities and groups, community service activities (food pantry, basic health needs, tutoring, etc).
  • Worship/assembly space would be available to the public for weddings, funerals and other rites and worship services. These could be led by on-staff clergy or others.
  • Rites of passage would be available to all. These could be combined with preparation programs. Such rites could include baptism and confirmation or similar but renamed events. Other rites could be developed, including community services of blessing for pets, beginning of school, graduation, deployment, and activities or events of local interest. Regular services of healing, memorial services, and services for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter could be held.
  • Such centers could exist without any resident congregation at all. Membership could be offered in the center, as with a health club. Center activities and services would be free or discounted for members. Center members would be encouraged to take leadership in programs. A sense of community would likely develop for some but not all.
  • Such centers could be branded and franchised. Training of leaders and a consistent quality of programming would be supported and promoted. Certain programs would be available at all centers but local needs would also be acknowledged and met.

No comments: