We need to do a serious reality check. It is time to take a long hard look in the mirror.
The most important thing we need to see about the church we cherish is how deeply and profoundly disconnected we have become from much of the world. Our church simply no longer matters to most people. It is not that they object particularly to anything we do; it is not as if they are hostile to our little gatherings. They simply don’t care.
There may be a few people who feel faintly embarrassed by their lack of interest, as if somehow they should care, but there is nothing that can induce them to even consider investigating the slightly eccentric undertaking in which we invest such energy on Sunday mornings.
It is difficult for those of us who grew up with church as an integral part of our lives to appreciate how deep the disconnect is today between Sunday morning church and the majority of people who pass their busy weekends without the slightest thought of giving two hours to attending church.
The world outside has no idea what we are doing on Sunday morning. They do not understand our language, our symbol system, or the theology that lies at the heart of our community.
We can shout and protest all we want, declaring that we have the truth everyone needs and that the world is going to ruin because it is not listening to us. But, the sound of our voice is lost in a vast sea of indifference.
Why have we become so irrelevant to the mainstream culture of our day?
We have become inconsequential in the eyes of the world because we have not listened seriously to people outside the church.
We have deluded ourselves into thinking that if we only do a better job of what we are already doing people will suddenly flock in to our worship. But this fantasy neglects a fundamental shift in our culture. We are irrelevant to most people in the western world today because, people who desire to live a spiritual life in community have discovered they can find creative life-giving ways to embody their spiritual journey without any need for fussy bother of church.
We can scoff all we want about what we perceive to be the individualism and superficiality of those who pursue a spiritual path outside the church. But people will still find their spiritual needs addressed in yoga studios, meditation retreats, chanting workshops, and study groups that ponder contemporary spiritual teachings.
If we believe the church might have something of value to offer future generations, we need to ask ourselves a fundamental question.
What changes might we need to make in order to enable the church to offer a compelling vision of the spiritual journey for people today who are disinclined to take the slightest interest in our little religion club?
We will only begin to be able to answer this question, when we genuinely want to hear what the world outside the church is saying. In order to have a chance to really hear we must be willing to make the changes that may emerge from listening sensitively to what we hear. This may be frightening, but the likely alternative is the continuing erosion of our faith community.
Christopher Page is the rector of St. Philip Anglican Church in Oak Bay, in the Anglican Diocese of B.C. He writes regularly on his blog www.inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking HERE