During worship the other day (when I should have been paying attention) I was looking around at what people were wearing and places where the sanctuary could use some sprucing up. And then my eyes landed on a cobweb.
It was on the baptismal font.
“Uh oh,” I thought. “This is surely a telling metaphor.”
First of all, it means we haven’t had a baptism in a while–probably well over a year.
Of course we’re not the only congregation, parish or denomination experiencing low baptism rates and decreasing membership rolls. The 2010 edition of the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches reports a “continuing decline of membership of virtually all mainline denominations,” according to a National Council of Churches report.
According to the report, the churches that are experiencing the highest rate of membership losses include ours: the ELCA, down 1.62%, to a membership total of a little more than 4.6 million. (These are 2008 figures, reported in 2009, and printed in the 2010 report.)
To tell the truth, when I started this blog, I didn’t know where I was going with it. Maybe a “woe is me, what are we going to do” lament. But then, as I looked into the numbers some more, I ran across two interesting facts in the Yearbook.
Fact one: Gen Xers (people in their 30s and 40s) and Millennials (folks in their 20s) don’t much care about joining a church. For these age groups, church membership “is sometimes perceived as an unnecessary and even an undesirable exercise in over-institutionalization. Hence, for some young adults, church attendance, participation in fellowship or mission activities, and even financial support of a local congregation does not translate into a desire to formally ‘join’ and be listed among those in membership,” according to the Yearbook report.
Young people don’t mind being “affiliated” with a church or attending worship, but being a member seems to make sweat roll down their brows.
Fact two: Increasingly, new immigrants to the U.S. are Christian and are probably open to joining a church. Perhaps they were affiliated with a denomination before they came to the U.S. thanks to missionaries. (Let’s give a shout out to our ELCA global mission personnel!) “A majority of those immigrants have come from nations that are predominately Christian, such as Mexico, Central and South America, Eastern Europe, and the Caribbean,” according to the Yearbook.
But some come from countries that “constrain the life and witness of Christian communities and thus serve as a motivational factor to emigration.” In other words, they come to this country because they can be openly Christian.
We talk a lot about getting younger members into our church. We talk a lot about immigration. But what we don’t talk much about is inviting people who weren’t born in this country into our churches. Maybe even the 20- to 40-year-old immigrants would be open to joining our church.
We could start by inviting them.
We have the word evangelical in our name, right?