+ I read an article this past week that really hit home for me. Actually James posted it on his Facebook page. It was entitled
“Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.”
It was very good article. The article said this:
Recent research from Barna Group and the Cornerstone Knowledge Network found that 67 percent of millennials prefer a “classic” church over a “trendy” one, and 77 percent would choose a “sanctuary” over an “auditorium.” While we have yet to warm to the word “traditional” (only 40 percent favor it over “modern”), millennials exhibit an increasing aversion to exclusive, closed-minded religious communities masquerading as the hip new places in town. For a generation bombarded with advertising and sales pitches, and for whom the charge of “inauthentic” is as cutting an insult as any, church rebranding efforts can actually backfire, especially when young people sense that there is more emphasis on marketing Jesus than actually following Him. Millennials “are not disillusioned with tradition; they are frustrated with slick or shallow expressions of religion,” argues David Kinnaman, who interviewed hundreds of them for Barna Group and compiled his research in “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith.”
I found the article fascinating. And, dare I say, encouraging for us, here at St. Stephen’s. Certainly the forms of church the article is mentioning are not my forms of church. I’ve been very vocal that I have always been wary of trends that tend to be flash in the pan. In my many years in the Church, I have trends come and I have seen trends go. As many of us have. And every ten years or so there is something new and hip and “happening” that comes along, promising it will somehow “revive” the Church.
But, for me, the tried and true method always works best. Consistency sometimes is not a bad thing.
Still, we do need to be honest. These trends are happening because changes are happening. And we still need to be open to change. Let’s face it, the Church is changing. And it should be changing. Obviously it’s not changing into some hip, trendy church. Because that doesn’t last. Hipsters grow up and eventually stop being hip. Consistency in that sense is good.
But the Church is changing in other ways. It is not the Church we knew thirty years ago or forty years ago. Or even twenty-five years ago. We are changing. And we need to change as the Church. And, if you really pay attention, if you really pause and just put your ear to the pulse of all that’s happening, you can feel it too. The old ways of “doing Church” are passing away—and by this I mean the governing of the Church. Those old ways of “doing Church” are not effective anymore. Those ways of close-mindedness and exclusivity are behind us.
Now, before we rage about the fact, before we panic, just remember that our ways of “doing medicine” are not the same as they were twenty-five or fifty years ago. Our ways of “doing” education are not what they were twenty-five or fifty years ago. We have learned much in our recent past And we are learning new ways about the way we govern our church. The way we do ministry. The way we see ourselves and the world around us are all changing. And let me tell you, that’s a very good thing.
Yes, it’s hard to shift our way of thinking around these changes. Yes, it’s hard to realize sometimes that the church we once thought we knew is sometimes a bit unrecognizable to us. But, it’s the truth. And we need to change. Because the old ways of governing the Church and leading the Church and of doing ministry just sometimes don’t work anymore—not in this society, not in this world in which we live.
Now, this might be frightening to us. We might be sitting here on this Sunday morning feeling a bit of anxiety over these changes. We might be saying to ourselves, “But, I like the way things we before.”
Before we despair over the changes, we need to remember one very important thing: As long as we follow Jesus—and that is what we do as Christians—we know that whatever changes might happen, it’s all for the ultimate good.
In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus giving us a glimpse of what it means to follow him.
“I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus tells us.
The effective branch bears fruit. Our job as Christians is do just that. It is to bear fruit. Bearing fruit does not mean being frozen in the old way of doing things. Bearing does not bearing grudges. Bearing fruit does not mean being frozen in place, unwilling to move. We can’t bear fruit when we are worried about maintaining the museum of the Church. Bearing fruit means, growing and changing and flourishing.
But we do it here at St. Stephen’s by doing something that might not seem trendy. We do it with our ancient form of worship. We do it with the Eucharist. We do it with taking what we do here, breaking bread and sharing bread with each other, on Sundays, and then going out doing just that in the world. And in doing that, we make a difference in the world. That is what it means to is to be effective as Christians.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean just feeling warm and fuzzy all the time. Being a Christian isn’t only about following private devotions, and reading the Bible by ourselves. Being a Christian isn’t about coming to church to be entertained. Or to feel the Church owes me something.
Being a Christian isn’t only about our own private faith. And let me tell you, it certainly has nothing to do with feeling safe and complacent. Being a Christian means living out our faith—fully and completely, in every aspect of our life. And living out our faith as followers of Jesus means that we must be pliable to some extent. And we must be fertile. We must go with change as it comes along. We must remain relevant.
Now that doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. In fact it means embracing and holding tightly to what we have do well. We celebrate our Holy Eucharist. We celebrate and remember our baptisms. I will still be wearing these vestments at Mass. We cling and hold to the Book of Common Prayer We respect and honor and celebrate our tradition, his history, our past.
But it also means that we sometimes have to take a good, hard new look at why we do these things and how we do these things.
And what these things mean to us and to the world around us. Being a Christian means following Jesus—not just believing in Jesus. And following Jesus means letting Jesus lead the way.
It means allowing the vine to sustain us, to nourish us, to encourage growth within us, so we in turn can bear fruit. As baptized followers of Jesus, as Christians and Episcopalians who are striving to live out the Baptismal Covenant in our lives, we know that to be relevant, to be vital, we must be fruitful. Following Jesus means that we will follow him through radical times of change. And by being fruitful and growing and flourishing, we are making a difference in the world.
We are doing positive and effective things in the world. We are transforming the world, bit by bit, increment by increment, baby step by baby step. We are being the conduits through which God works in our lives and in the lives of those around us. This is what it means to follow Jesus. That is what it means to be reflectors of God’s Light on those around us. This is what means to be a positive Christian example in the world.
And when we do this, we realize that we are really doing is evangelizing. We are sharing our faith, not only with what we say, but in what we do. That is what it means to be a Christian—to be a true follower of Jesus in this constantly changing world. That is what it means to bear good fruit.
So, let us do just that. Let us bear fruit. Let us flourish and grow and be vital fruit to those who need this fruit. Let us be nourished by that Vine—by the One we follow—so that we can nourish others. And let not be afraid of these “new ways” of “doing” Church.
Rather, let us be rejuvenated and excited by these changes. There is a bright and glorious future awaiting us. There is certainly a bright and glorious future awaiting us here at St. Stephen’s. And there is a bright and glorious future awaiting all of us who are following Jesus as his Church.
We should rejoice in that. And we should continue to live out that faith with meaning and purpose. Let us, in the words of our collect for today, always recognize Jesus “to be the way, the truth and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life…”