Thursday, March 5, 2009

Church Shopping in America

Ann W. passed along an article in Slate about Church shopping in the U.S. The article is arguing that the competition among churches in the U.S. has been good for religion in America and may even explain why something like 67% of Americans belong to a local church.
American faith comes in lots of flavors, but that doesn't necessarily mean that today's church shoppers are buying into a superficial, strip-mall faith. When the Barna Group studied what believers look for in a new church, doctrine and belief ranked at the top of the list of the most important factors, while more mundane or aesthetic concerns (music, parking, comfortable seating) were less important. And the free market in faith has been good for America's religious life. All that hopping across denominational lines likely helped produce a less rigid, better informed, more ecumenical religious culture. (source)

I do think we need to be careful about the the tendency to sell a Gospel of ease--selling out our integrity for the sake of growth--but I think we also need to recognize that people are hungry for a genuine encounter with God. The popularity of the Orthodox Church in certain circles is good evidence for how "approachability" or "high-barriers to entry" are perhaps not as important to church "consumers" as perceived authenticity or other, more spiritual values.

I remember more than one person at St. Mary Magdalene's that told me that they came and continued to come specifically because of their belief in Father Harold's spiritual integrity. That is a striking sentiment in a church that is trying hard to transcend individuality in liturgy. Harold is not the sort of priest that likes to preach about his "spiritual journey." Still, people came because they perceived that there was a genuine spiritual something at the heart of the SMM community.

Applied to Church of The Messiah, it's one the reasons why I'm so pleased that the community has grown so much more loving and connected in the last year. Really, love will get us there. Signs and websites and posters and all that are important, but if we don't have core spirituality we are dead in the water.


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