For the past 20 years, here in the US, we have seen a rise in numbers with the religious affiliation “S.B.N.R.” Have you heard of it: “Spiritual, But Not Religious”? It seems that with the cultural shift drifting away from Christendom, there is also a decline in institutional allegiance. Unlike 50 years ago, when ‘spiritual’ and ‘religious’ were synonymous, there is now a great divide. As people move away from the institutional church and its public religious practices, they tend to move toward a more individual and private experience of God. This personal experience of encountering the Divine, apart from a community of believers, is what identifies many as “spiritual.”
I’m learning in ministry there are a great number of people who love Sunday Morning worship: it’s their joy and a rhythm of their life for social, emotional, and spiritual growth. Sunday Morning worship is where they encounter the Divine and feel the warmth and love of Jesus Christ in a way altogether different from the rest of the world. I’m also learning there are a great number of people who do not love Sunday Morning worship. They simply don’t want to go to church or do worship. I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. (Gasp!) After all, some Sunday Morning worship rituals could use a bit of re-vitalization or liturgical imagination.
While worship attendance continues to drop around our nation, I’m still convinced most people want to explore their faith and to contribute to a bigger vision of greater good. Most people want to be a part of a movement of transformation and know they have contributed to making life more beautiful or abundant for others, to ease pain, heal brokenness, share kindness and offer hope. While I don’t agree with S.B.N.R.’s (I am fully claimed by Jesus Christ and His Church), I think we are both coming from the same place in our hearts: a desire to love and be loved; to encounter the Divine and pass on to others whatever goodness comes from that encounter.
I’m not alone in my frustration with mainline denominations who continue to push for a church growth model, where bigger is always better. I think this idea has led to some missteps in church leadership and some misunderstandings about the Kingdom of God among clergy and laity alike.
I’ve even seen congregations water-down their message of redemption and healing in Jesus in an effort to “bring in” the growing S.B.N.R. crowd on Sunday Mornings. I wonder, is this really a faithful way of discipleship? Is that our method of transforming the world?
The slogan of the United Methodist Church is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” I love this, because “open” is such an inviting word; it’s dripping with grace and we Methodists are known for our thoughts on grace. While we are an invitational group, we are also a sent people. Every Sunday I offer the benediction and send my worshiping crowd out into the community to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Yes, our doors are open for people to come in, but our doors are also open for us to go out.
Are other congregations open to ministry outside a building? Or open to worship outside of Sunday? I’m convinced the best way to minister to the S.B.N.R crowd is to meet them right where they are, and to serve side by side. What would it look like to put the invitations for Sunday Worship to rest and leave the church building, in order to be the church body? Let’s organize for community service uniting under the cause of improving global health, ministering with the poor and advocating for justice. Let’s join alongside those who believe differently than us and show with our loving actions why we believe differently—Jesus.
My hope and prayer is never for our church to be big. I pray for God’s Kingdom to grow wide. Deep and wide. While Sunday morning is reserved for the maintenance of worship, let’s commit Monday through Saturday for service in Christ’s name.