Pastor Keith Anderson is one of my favorite bloggers, though we haven’t met yet. Keith is an ELCA minister, the author of Click2Save: The Digital Ministry Bible and blogs here. A few weeks ago, Keith wrote a post called The Rise of the “Nones” and My Trip to Asheville. I thought it was a fascinating post, and so I encourage you to read it.
Essentially, Keith shared a few facts from the recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life study called “Nones” on the Rise. The percentage of those who would self-identify as having “no religious affiliation” has been rising faster than any other time, and currently 1 in 5 adults and a third of all adults under the age of 30 claim to be “nones.”
He then shared about a trip to Asheville, North Carolina, and this is how he described it:
Asheville has a thriving downtown with great local restaurants, cafes, lots of local artists, and repurposed old buildings. The old Woolworth store is now an artist’s co-op. The old Bell Telephone building is a pub. It is an artistic, slightly urban, hip, and young town (and not just because of the college) but because of the culture – and the skiing, I’m sure. It is progressive, southern, eclectic, home spun. There are a ton of independent stores and restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops, and restaurants. It is ironic and irreverent.
After spending some time in Asheville, he visited Biltmore Village, just outside of Asheville. The culture of Biltmore Village couldn’t be further from the culture of Asheville, and that’s when Keith made a realization of how those two cultures plays out with the church. He writes:
That Sunday afternoon was one of those moments where the disconnect between church and culture crystalizes. Walking through the Biltmore Village was like walking through a typical mainline church – so disconnected from the prevailing culture just down the road – and with fewer people. Our churches are like Biltmore Village – so close but so far away from Asheville.
Churches say they want to engage with young adults and the unaffiliated, but they don’t, can’t, or are afraid to understand and engage their culture. This creates a huge gap. When you welcome young adults to your church, you must also engage the culture in which they live – a culture which is widespread and becoming the norm, but is almost entirely absent from our churches.
I know I’m just quoting a lot from Keith in this post, but I think the point that he makes is crucial to how we envision the church of the 21st century, of the future. We must be doing ministry that is culturally relevant, and makes sense within the communities we have been called to serve.
How many of us could say that we’re creating ministries and worship services for people in Biltmore Village…even though we’re in more of an Asheville community? It’s definitely challenging to me because Ashland seems to be like Asheville in many respects. And so the question that I have to ask myself, is if our church truly desires to reach out to a new generation, if we want to be a church that continues and grows into the future, instead of just being here for those folks who are already connected to the church…what needs to change?
What does a meaningful worship experience look like for those who come out of the Ashland culture? Does it look like church has for the past 50 years? Or does it need to change, adapt and become something that the self-identified “nones” would be more comfortable with. It seems like there is a fine line in ministry, because we are certainly called to minister to the needs of those who are a part of our communities of faith already, but if that’s the only group we’re focusing on…do we do ourselves a disservice? And how might we begin to became better readers and interpreters of our culture?
Even after reading what I’ve written up to this point in this post, it seems like a pretty basic and standard missional conversation…the fact that you have to go and learn and understand your context before you can effectively do ministry in that area…stuff that I think many of us heard throughout seminary.
But I think once you get out of the seminary-context, how this plays out in the real world of day-to-day parish ministry is an entirely different story. Sure, churches can talk about wanting to bring in new folks and be missional, but, just like many things in the church, do the stakeholders in your congregation really want to deal with the changes that need to happen? Or will people just want things to continue as they always have, business as usual, and expect new folks to just deal with it?