Our Synod Bishop John Roth recently sent out an email telling about an article posted by the Pew Research Center entitled “Why Americans Go (and Don’t Go) to Religious Services.”
According to the research results, the leading reason adults in the U.S. cite for choosing to attend religious services is “to become closer to God.” That reason was selected by 81% of the church-going respondents, well outstripping the next most selected answers. Roughly two-thirds say they attend religious services to give their children a moral foundation, to become better people, and for comfort in times of trouble or sorrow.
The new survey was conducted online Dec. 4 to 18, 2017, among a nationally representative sample of 4,729 adults on Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel.
Bishop Roth went on to say, “If this Pew research is accurate, it stands to reason that churches are likely to shrink in size if that which church attenders are looking for above anything else (‘to become closer to God’) is not a priority of their congregation.” But then he pointed out that we are not to set our priorities based on people’s desires, but on God’s purposes.
“So,” the Bishop continued, “the first question for those of us who are thinking through the implications of this Pew research is not ‘How do we provide what people say they are looking for?’ The first question is, ‘Where does the goal of people becoming closer to God fit in God’s mission for the church’?”
According to Bishop Roth, the answer is: not only does “becoming closer to God” fit with God’s mission, it also aligns very well with our theology as ELCA Lutherans. He cites 2 Corinthians 5:19 as one of many Biblical texts that reveal God’s desire for us to be close: “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to God’s own self, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”
As Lutheran Christians, we are all about claiming and proclaiming the good news of God’s grace by which we are saved through faith in Christ. When we receive God’s grace, forgiveness and new life in Christ, we are brought close to God. The barrier of sin that separates us is broken.
I love the idea of Christ Lutheran Church being a place where people grow closer to God – of our congregation being a people who help each other grow closer to God. I actually think that does happen here and that’s why we continue to draw new people.
Some good questions to ponder in this regard are:
What are the specific things we do that strengthen our relationship with God in Christ and how can we do more of those?
What are the obstacles that tend to separate us from God and how can we help minimize those?
How do we communicate the message that this is a place where people grow closer to God, so as to draw seekers in?
I plan to think about these things as we set goals and objectives and strategies to help us fulfill God’s mission for this congregation. I would love to hear your thoughts.