I met some real people yesterday. On impulse mostly, my wife and I stopped at a yard sale on a busy street while driving to a Saturday morning errand. Walking from the car we heard a call, “Hey, don’t we know you?” and turned to see a couple in our age group (Boomers) that looked familiar to us but we couldn’t immediately place them. In the name exchange that followed we realized that our children had attended the same Christian elementary school in another town and we would see each other at school functions. In the great fall morning air we chatted and the topic came around to churches. This couple admitted they were “between churches” – funny so are we! They had recently left their church rather disillusioned over issues such as governance and leadership (the Pastor-as-CEO dilemma). Both had been highly involved and active church participants for years but were now seeking that new fit – that oftentimes hard-to-define mix of congregational community, fellowship, commitment, purpose, leadership, worship style, spirit and doctrine.
Ours was a similar story but with also a travel distance component involved. When you travel 45 minutes one-way to church, say what you want, but it gets hard to be involved in more than just Sunday morning services. Aside from the obvious cost of distant multi-trip travel, it is difficult to feel part of a spiritual community on a weekly basis. In New England, we aren’t bound together by a county or township orientation – we are made up of very individualistic cities and small towns that shape our activities and our identity. I saw this effect in the contrast between the township school system I attended in Pennsylvania and the single town-based school where I finished out my high school years in Massachusetts. At the church we attended that was 45 minutes from our home and effectively three communities away, most everyone there was local to the area. Their sense of community was their town (small city in this case). The congregants see each other around town during the week and can easily pop by the church for a mid-week committee meeting or a before-work men’s prayer session. Overtime, it makes a difference. (I fully realize that my friends and colleagues in the Southwest will chuckle at this since in places like West Texas they think nothing of driving an hour one-day to pick up some groceries or go to a movie).
Back to our chance meeting with the couple. They admitted that in seeking a new church home, they had visited some 15 area churches. Now these are committed, well-grounded and mature Christ-followers, not flighty or fickled teens trying to figure out if their next stop should be the Gap or Old Navy. We could absolutely relate to their situation – and that’s why we ended up talking extensively on the sidewalk in front of that yard sale and exchanged phone numbers when we parted.
An isolated incident? A case of bored Christians habitually church-shopping? No, Boomer Christians are having a difficult time these days wresting with the essence of their faith vs. the practice and program component. This restlessness is a wide-spread issue, at least here in the northern half of New England with our small towns, small churches and generally secular community atmospheres. Emergent Church, Simple Church, Missional Church, Return-to-Liturgy Church. Lots of discussions, lots of choices. Sort of.
It was heartening to unexpectedly meet and converse with some real people yesterday. Christ-followers on a journey, trying to be faithful to their faith. I can relate.