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Peace, spirituality, values, and activism
from a Jesus perspective

Redecorating, Renovating, and Reconstructing Christian Faith – pt. 1

Note: This is a return to and expansion of some previous blog posts.

A couple months ago I caught up with a 3-year-old article in The Guardian, regarding declining attendance in the Church of England. This decline is, I suspect, true of other expressions of “traditional” forms of Christianity in England (i.e., creedal and congregational ones), each contributing to a drift in the wider population toward belonging to no religion, having no religious affiliation at all. Some surveys of this affiliation show that the majority of the population, whilst still holding to some form of Christian beliefs, are not part of any community expression of those beliefs, suggesting (at best) an attenuation of a connection between belief, behaviour, and belonging. Among the younger generation the number is as high as 70%. And none of these are one-off indicators; all are part of at least a decade-long change in religious belief and affiliation.

Of course, there will be some expressions of Christianity—or at least some congregations, here and there—that can claim some “growth” in recent years. But if my anecdotal evidence is any indication, that growth is usually due to the migration of people already holding Christian conviction and practice—a migration from one church to another, or migration from one country (where they grew up or became Christian) to another. In other words, these growth numbers are not, by and large, “conversions” of folks into (or back into) a Christian faith they never held (or once held and subsequently abandoned). And even if it were the case that these were full conversions into (or back into) Christian conviction and community, the numbers and percentages are in no way keeping up with the rate of movement in the other direction.

Things aren’t as stark in the US, but the trends seem quite similar, so far as I can tell. Gallups survey nearly a year ago, shows religious “membership” dropping below 50% for the first time (it was 70% or higher until almost 2000). Half of this decline is due to “replacement” of an older, more affiliated, cohort by the millenials, who self-identify as having no religious “affiliation” at a higher rate than previous generations. But this trend toward no religious affiliation, and its corresponding drop in religious membership, shows up in every cohort. All to say, if we are no more than a generation or so away from a thoroughly post-Christian culture here in England, perhaps we are two or three generations away from that in the US–if current trends continue.

In light of these figures and trends, those within existing churches can’t help but consider what changes might be made to reverse the tide. And here the typical options seem to be changes in style and culture—toward more “contemporary” forms of worship, conversational modes of preaching and evangelism, relational forms of community. If we were to imagine Christianity as a house, such efforts are, in some ways, akin to redecorating, that is, moving the furniture around, changing the art on display, and updating the decor.

Sometimes, however, this redecorating leads to more substantial changes, like repurposing existing space, knocking out a wall here and there, changing modes of egress and accommodation. While the basic blueprint–the “bones”– of the Christian house remain unchanged, an effort at renovation is underway.

Even if such outcomes aren’t always what was expected or hoped for, redecoration and renovation can be fun and often do produce worthy outcomes.  So even if, the cynic might point out, the mass exodus from church has coincided with precisely such experiments over the last decades, such efforts need to be tried. But I do suspect the cynic is right here: however beautiful our renovations, the end result will be the same–more and more people (in the West) not wanting to live in the old Christian houses, no matter how much they might be redecorated or renovated.

This leaves me wondering whether something more fundamental is needed—not just a renovation but a reconstruction.

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