What Is Church Like?
(February 2, 2023)
“Neither sugar nor salt tastes particularly good by itself.
Each is at its best when used to season other things.
Love is the same way. Use it to ‘season’ people.”
― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be hosting a class of history students from Naugatuck Valley Community College who are going to spend an hour with me touring our church and hearing about the Pilgrims, the Puritans and the denomination that once lived by stoic rule. That denomination has matured and now has grown into the United Church of Christ, to open its doors to everyone no matter where they are on life’s journey.
Naugatuck’s Professor Conroy called me after she polled her class, and she discovered that more than 90 percent of her students had never even set foot inside any house of worship, much less attended a service.
Today, when every denomination sees many empty spots in the pews, this really should come as no surprise. At least two generations of young people have grown up without a place in their weekly routine that involves “church” or the community of people that gather there regularly.
According to Putnam and Campbell’s insightful book, American Grace, It was back in the mid-seventies that more parents stopped bringing their children to some kind of worship, or they stopped attending themselves. For every generation that doesn’t bring the kids, the next generation they produce has even less incentive to involve their children. Eventually we reach the point that young adults can’t think of any reason they’d want to go into a church, except maybe to see their friends get married and get to the reception to start partying.
Life in a Church
In this week’s gospel Jesus decides to use a metaphor to describe his disciples, and also us: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”
He tells us sometimes salt can lose its zest and become useless. But It’s our own enthusiasm, our zest, and yes, the fun we generate when we are together, that makes churchgoing an enjoyable, desirable thing.
But how would someone who had never been to church know this? As far as they know from funerals, “church” is what happens when people die. But the truth is, “church” is what happens when people find new life!
The Experience of Church
The challenge these days is getting people in the door so that WE can help them savor their experience with others. This is precisely what we’ve been doing with our family nights, whether people gather for trivia, karaoke or movie night.
From our first days of no more than six people, we’ve now grown to more than 30 people for our most recent family night, and we’ve been honored to have the sponsorship of the Dennis Perkins Farmers Insurance agency to help defray the cost.
The fact is, people will gather in a church building when they’ve found happy fellowship. Some may eventually find their way with our help into worship in the sanctuary and discover our wonderful music and choir. Others may continue to make their church experience take place in our other gatherings, including the Children’s Chorus and other youth-related things we may additionally offer.
The most important thing is for us not to “lose our saltiness,” so that we may let our own light draw people to find out “what goes on in that big building with the tower on the corner.” My thanks to every person who supports our work and who realizes that rebuilding takes time, funding and enthusiasm.