As an extension of his talk of “the Benedict Option,” author Rod Dreher recently posed the following questions to the clergy who read his blog and who agree with some version of the dire situation in which today’s church finds itself:
Do you tell your congregation the truth? If not, why not? Are you afraid people will bail out? How do you balance concern for the nominal with the needs for discipleship of those who are committed? Are you confident that you are providing the people in your congregation with the tools they will need to remain faithful in the years to come? Why or why not?
Where do you think your congregation will be in 20 years? How about the American church? What, aside from a miracle, might turn things around?
Personally, I hoped for more responses than Dreher received, but beggars can’t be choosers. A couple of responses stood out to Dreher. The second, penned by a Protestant, had one particular section that summed things up well from my perspective. From that blog entry:
In my denomination, I feel almost alone in saying, again and again, “the answer is to be found in congregations.” That’s the part of Rod’s book that I find the most resonance with. Not a wider movement or mailing list, not even a church organization of any sort, but a local congregation that has a healthy regard for the fact that there are reasons why we do things (baptism, church calendar, communion, membership, leadership roles), and that our life together face-to-face is going to be crucial as to whether or not we have anything to pass along to our great-grandchildren.
Many readers, I fear, wouldn’t get past the assertion that the solution is to be found in congregations and not in God, the Spirit, better preaching, or the like. But I think he’s right: there is something about the way a congregation exists together that holds something like a solution. That can be tricky when some churches focus more on the program while other focus more on the liturgy. In extreme versions of both, forgetting the face of the other, the one beyond your family, is easy to do. It’s not just “parish life.” It’s not just “community.” It is genuine relationship.