The question was posited for charismatic and evangelical churches. One of the things I asked our matriarchs was whether this was something that these churches can learn from mainline folks on? It also reminded me of the common mainline phenomenon of the Christmas and Easter attendee, although we didn't talk about that quite as much, but it still comes down to:
Engagement! Engagement! Engagement!
The original question:
In many evangelical and charismatic churches there is a lot of emphasis on evangelism - getting people saved and into church. Not all stay however. I wonder what experience the matriarchs have about 'those who leave via the back door' - and perhaps my question is "how can we help people to stay in the church once they have got the basics of Christianity under their belt?"
So Singing Owl says: "I wish we could all sit down together, mainline church people and evangelical church people, and share openly about what it means to be the church. (That is why I love the Rev Gals!)"
She continues with some excellent thoughts from her own experience:
In the evangelical culture, I think that in our hurry to get people "saved" we have seriously changed what Jesus said. Jesus said that to remain in his love we must obey what he says. He said, "follow me." He also said to count the cost before becoming his follower. Jesus warns us that while his yoke is easy and his burden light, being his follower will cost us everything. What do we make of statements like "Keep your life for yourself and you will lose it; lose your life and you'll find it." Too often we ignore them.
While it seems in my area there are Catholics and mainline people who know more about form or structure than about God, there are evangelicals who once said “a sinner's prayer” and who attend church and know how to find scripture verses and can sing all the hymns -- who do not know God and check their faith at the door. And there are many others who haven’t been part of a church for a long time, but point to a sinner’s prayer moment and think they are fine. Magic prayer. Tragic!
Evangelicals tend to think that the Catholic church, and some mainline Protestant denominations, may be lacking in an awareness of relationship with God and not just religious ritual. But evangelicals have, to an alarming degree, lost any sense of the holiness of God. I do believe that knowing about Jesus is not the same as knowing him. Being baptized is just getting wet if it is not about something that must happen in our spirits. Being "born from above" is radical! But how and when this happens is becoming more and more of a mystery to me.
If we are looking for numbers, we can all take lessons from people like Joel Osteen. But if we are interested in making disciples, we must find ways to be more honest up front. Mainline churches have been discussing falling memberships for some time. Now we evangelicals are discussing the same issues, megachurches notwithstanding. The Assemblies of God leadership recently shared some alarming statistics that made clear that we urge to “get saved” (a phrase I no longer use) but we are not making disciples.
I think the church of the 21st century is going to be about relationships. People who come to church will generally leave if they do not make friendships, and if they are not challenged. Perhaps we need to spend more time helping those who are followers of Jesus learn how to share their faith in a “lifestyle” kind of way and stop competing.
I think we evangelicals can learn from our mainline friends and put something like confirmation classes back in place. We can return to an awareness of spiritual disciplines—a phrase I never even heard till about 10 years ago! We can take time to teach what being a follower of Christ is, and we can stop counting people who have said a prayer as followers of Jesus.
Mainline people can learn from us that there are times when people need a “moment” in time when
they make a conscious to repent—consciously change direction. This may come at confirmation, but perhaps not. It is not about better programs, more exciting music, etc. That may bring bodies into the building, but it will not make Jesus followers.
Ann adds some notes on how to engage folks. "Sounds like people are hungry for more now that they have a taste and the 'high' of feeling saved," she writes. "The being 'saved' is mainly about me -- the next step is to find one's ministry and support to continue the work where my gifts and the world's needs meet."
She suggests small groups of study, prayer, reflection on the intersection life and ministry and where God is calling 'me' to go beyond myself and serve the world. In addition to ongoing study, small groups can also plan activities that include praying together, sharing their closest moments to Christ and plans for the future, creating accountability with one another, and praying for one another during the week.
And whatever you do for the sporadic parishioner, don't do what one of Jan's predecessors did for his/her Christmas and Easter crowd. "Saying during announcements: 'I'm going to turn my back to the congregation and ask those who don't plan to be with us next week to leave.'(True story. And they wonder why the church imploded.) Better: Be real. Be loving. Show the compassion of God. Say/do something that makes a difference."
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!