It is a theme I hear come up often. I hear it from friends and family. I see it on 24 hour news networks. I read it in my newsfeed on Facebook. People in churches are concerned with the membership levels in their particular faith community. Evangelicals like to boast how theirs is the fasting growing in America (they tend to skip over the fact that non-believers are the fastest growing group overall on this question, but whatever.) Mainstream Protestant and Catholic groups worry about dwindling membership, and other, newer expressions of faith worry that they are not big enough.
Not every Christian cares or is even aware of this issue. Many take their personal faith with them every Sunday, or in some case every day, and leave it at that. If someone new is in the church, they welcome them, or not, and leave it at that. It happens enough that I hear worries about it ,though, that I find myself wondering about it. Why is it so important to grow your church?
I understand wanting to be around people who share your view of anything. Politics, the divine presence (or absence,) favorite hobbies, or love of fried foods. Whatever it is, gathering together can add to the enjoyment of the experience. Knowing we are not alone in the things that are important to us is comforting. Also, I assume after a while, when your gathering has grown from that, to a group, to an organization, you want to see it survive under its weight, which means bringing in new blood. Still, at what cost to your faith community?
“Even if UUism were to become the most popular religion in all the world, if it no longer upheld my values, what would I care of its “growth”?”
Those were the words of my Unitarian Universalist friend Kat. She’s a pretty smart lady. She hits the nail right on its head. At what point is it no longer your faith? It seems to me you come together to share your expressions of faith because of just that: you share them. If you bring in people who do not see the divine as you do, if they are more dogmatic than you or vice versa, how is it the same church anymore?
Obviously there is a little wiggle room. I am a firm believer that no two people in any religion view their beliefs and traditions exactly the same way. I am assuming there is some sort of balance, where you accept new ideas into your midst while still honoring the old. After a while, though, I would think you would want to draw a line. Certainly I would hope you would not alter your values, at least not drastically, just to bring people in. To grow personally, yes. To accept, because you have realized a new truth, new ideas. To get butts in the seats, however, seems shallow and hypocritical.
Hey, I’m just a mouthy Agnostic, so what do I really know? It seems, though, that too many groups are willing to compromise themselves for the sake of membership. This, by the way, goes for political parties too. It seems to me that if you change enough, you are no longer you, and if you aren’t you, what are you? Change can be good, so long as you are doing it for the right reasons. Just something to ponder, and maybe take with you the next time someone at your next church meeting brings up membership.
- Guilt by Association Among Religions (dalehusband.wordpress.com)
- “The Welcome Table” 10/13/13 (fuunorev.wordpress.com)
- My Week in Chautauqua by Jason Cook (meadvilleedu.com)
- Connect – How to Double Your Volunteers (booksquareblog.wordpress.com)