The In-Between

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
choward@glpby.org 

 


If you have ever moved, or done renovation, or had a home built, you know the frustrations of dealing with transition and contractors! I am working from home the next two weeks as our office transitions to our new space. We find ourselves caught in an in-between space. The Tower Grove office is packed up in boxes, and ready to be transported. Our new office in Creve Core awaits a final inspection approval before we can move in. In the meantime, I and the staff are working from home, and I do not like working from home!

Living in-between characterizes our current office, but also describes the life of many congregations and the presbytery. This place of liminality is described by Murray Stein in the book, “In Midlife.” Stein speaks of liminality as being in a place of drift, alienation, and marginality. It is a place of floating. A place where clearly defined identity fails; there is no “this” and “not that.”

Living in liminality describes many of our congregations. We are operating with a model of ministry that is struggling for survival in our current time. One example is membership. The church seems out of step when it comes to membership and requiring people to join. Counting members goes back to the book of Acts when thousands joined on the day of Pentecost. Throughout time the size of a church as measured by membership has become a badge of prestige. There is nothing wrong with having a large congregation. It is just that we have fewer large churches, and many more congregations under 100 members.

We now live in the Facebook generation where friends are on internet, learning is by Google (for free!), and the focus is on the individual consumer, not a certain community. Membership is in decline everywhere from boy scouts to bowling leagues. People still bowl, but many bowl alone.

People may not join, but they still attend. People may not want to make a public confession of faith, but they want to serve and feel a part of something bigger than they are.

Using the example of membership, how do we let go of the way we value joining, and the way we structure ourselves around numbers? Is there a way to shift our focus from butts-in-the-pews to hands-serving-community? Are we counting the wrong thing? If so, what should we be counting?

Before we can really get at these questions, we may need to let go of our value of membership as a number to be counted. For example, we may focus instead on membership as action. Who participates. How many are served and how many are serving. This may not make denominational sense, but perhaps participating and serving gets us a step closer to the gospel.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

11 Responses to “The In-Between”

  1. Trish Farano on

    An interesting perspective Craig. Watching the only church I’ve ever attended go from a large congregation with two services, lots of boards on which to serve and a large youth group to a now small congregation has been difficult. The congregation that is there though is engaged, active and enthusiastic. Not simply butts-in-the-pews.

    Reply
    • Craig Howard on

      Trish,
      It sounds like they are faithful in spite of the decline is size and membership. I believe there will still be large churches, but fewer of them. Yet, we are all called to be faithful.

      Reply
  2. Marilyn A Stewart on

    Thank you for your post this week. You always hit the nail on the head.

    Thank you, Craig. People in my church are about to call it quits. No action has been taken yet. I will stay with it until the doors are closed. It has always been a great source, where I can be close to God. Mornings at home, I read through a motivating selection and thank God for all the blessings and miracles he has bestowed on me and my family. As you might expect, indecision is not my forte. But I feel the need to be there and I struggle with my impatience. I WILL stay with it and work on keeping my heart open.

    Reply
    • Craig Howard on

      Marilyn,
      The decision to close a church is difficult and often filled with grief, guilt, and resignation. It sounds like you have a spiritual practice that holds you in God’s hand, and keeps the Spirit in your heart as you go through this process. You are in my prayers.

      Reply
  3. Diane McCullough on

    One of the earliest wise advise I remember is “prepare yourself for change”. That has, ironically, been a stabilizing bit of info for decades. I really like your thought about perhaps “action” is another way of thinking of success as we try to live a loving life. Thank you for always giving us food for thought! Diane

    Reply
  4. Stephen Collier on

    We all face the challenge that folks now don’t “join” organizations or groups. “Doing church” differently is important in attracting the younger generation, however, we must guard against compromising the essentials of our faith to become more in step with today’s culture. Some of us struggle with making changes to attract the younger generation while still maintaining the involvement of our “older generation,” assuring them that they, and our traditions are valued. Pragmatically, it is the older generation that still funds the church. Our best approach is to remain scripturally sound and seek the Lord’s guidance through prayer. After all, the Lord is the source of truth and wisdom, we need to seek the Lord’s guidance!

    Reply
    • Craig Howard on

      Marilyn,
      The decision to close a church is difficult and often filled with grief, guilt, and resignation. It sounds like you have a spiritual practice that holds you in God’s hand, and keeps the Spirit in your heart as you go through this process. You are in my prayers.

      Reply
    • Craig Howard on

      Stephen,
      Balance is the key. In some cases we must be prepared to do “both/and.” A healthy congregation is multi-generational; both young and old. But I am convinced that the solutions to our challenges will come from the younger generation. Baby Boomers have to let go and hand over the controls, and trust the next generations will be faithful, prayerful, Biblical, and theologically sound, even if we don’t like their music!

      Reply

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