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