Thursday, January 8, 2009

Stodgy Presbyterian

If you've been reading my posts (rants?), you'll know that Stodgy Presbyterian is a church that claims 270 members, 70 to 110 show up on any given Sunday, and is slowly dying; although the long-time members really do not realize that.

Over the years they've tried reaching out to the youth with a youth pastor (ordained), youth director (non-ordained), and a number of parents who thought they had good ideas to attract young families and youth to SPC.

None of them worked, and the reason is that this church; as I mentioned above, has a majority of exiles. 1st and 2nd generation exiles, to be precise, where anything that reeks of a change in the way their home is setup or things are done is anathema. They are afraid of CHANGE ... it rocks their foundations, and it would not be 'their' church any longer.

What I've been trying to do for the last two years is to make them realize that its NOT their church, but HIS. As they keep things the same, they are losing members who are leaving not by walking out, but carried out. The original settlers are mostly gone, except for a few that are still hanging on in nursing homes. However, they are never seen, and are kept on the roles because we just can't remove them. Occasionally, we'll get a bequest from an estate, and sometimes that's the only way we know they've passed on.

Then there are the 1st Generation exiles. These are the sons and daughters of the settlers, who fought in WWII and Korea, and who are also passing on to the Church Everlasting. They helped to fund the endowments, build the sanctuary in the 50's, and brought their Baby Boomer kids to SPC, who are the 2nd generation exiles. They are the kids who grew up in the 50's and 60's, and who are now parents and wondering why the church can't attract their kids as they were.

In the early 90's, when the Baby Boomers were having kids, who will eventually become nomads, they had a youth pastor. Evidently this person did a lot of good things, and attracted kids from all over the area, problem is some on Session did not like these things, and became all passive-aggressive when a new idea came before Session. Evidently there was always the "well, its a good idea ... but ...", then the reasons why it would never work here were given. Basically they were that it was never done that way before ... sound familiar ??

Eventually, that youth pastor got frustrated and sought another position. Over the next 10 years they had one or two good youth pastors/directors, but they all got frustrated and left. The ultimate illustration was when the last Christian Education/youth director tried to change the way Sunday School was done, along with the curriculum. Again, the passive-agressiveness kicked in, and the two C.E. Elders did not back up the director, so she just up and quit. The person they now have is also one to try to change things, and she may be getting things done, as the Elders in question are no longer on Session.

So they are trying to hire another youth director. The good thing about this is that we're looking for someone who is young, and the Session thinks it a position we need. Now we need to see what happens.

However in my opinion, we've already lost the senior high school youth, the middle school kids are still coming to church. The problem is, the parents are not always in church, and the parents are the nomads. So can we capture the youth if the parents are not regular church goers, thus unable (unwilling?) to get up to get the kids to Sunday School.

Which gets to the root of the problem. Many of our exiles and nomads do not realize that being a member of a church does not make you a Christian. They are treating church as a club, where they can come when needing a baptism, a wedding or a funeral. They certainly have no need of Sunday School, Wednesday night services, or any other fellowship except their glad handing on the Sundays they show up. These types are also less likely to pledge each year, and are also less likely to put more than a token amount in the plate. As mentioned above, the nomads want value for their buck; one of the main problems with trying to evangelize to the nomad is that "never done it" syndrome, which means that we either won't do it, or won't fund anything that will change the way things are done.

Again, you don't change anything in my church.

And so it goes ....

NOTE: This group of posts will not have any logical grouping. It will probably be a complete stream of thought set of posts. I'll apologize to my readers in advance for my A.D.D !!


  1. You've put your finger on one of the biggest problems with growing the youth program:parents who won't bring the kids to church. Middle schoolers and late elementary age youth can't drive and bring themselves--and in most churches, driving is necessary to get there.

    The 7 Last Words of the church--"we've never done it that way before"--is another huge issue for most churches.

    It's striking how the "high expectation" churches are growing while the "low expectation" ones are not. Unfortunately, most PCUSA churches (and other mainline churches) are low-expectation. I think that sends the message that the Christian faith really isn't that important.

  2. These are some good reflections.

    Our children's Sunday School is very well-attended - probably 16 or so kids - which meets the hour before worship, as does our Adult Bible Study. Problem is, about four or five parents drop their kids off for Sunday School, pick them up after, and never come to worship - unless the kids are doing something during worship. So we are making a conscientious effort to have more opportunities for the kids to do something as a group in worship, like sing. Our kids already lead in worship at least once a month. Of course, I've seen parents leave with their kids after they are done singing!

    Our Children & Youth Elder & Adult Bible Study Elder & I have been trying some different things to overcome this, but so far to no avail. We even changed the Adult Bible study time, thinking that if we can at least get them to a basic Bible study that would be something. But nope, they don't stay. I am warm & friendly when I see the parents waiting for the kids; I say hello, ask them how they are doing, engage in friendly conversation. I'm wondering if one of these times I should be bold and in a hopefully non-threatening way, ask why they don't stay for worship.

    I had a conversation the other day with a pastor who over his 30 year ministry has done lots with children and families. His suggestion was to continue involving the kids in worship and have times of recognizing milestone moments; i.e., the end of the school year, graduating, distributing Bibles, and use the opportunity when the parents are there to impress upon the parents the importance of worship & Bible study. But something in me says that guilt-tripping the parents isn't the answer.

    Thanks again for the opportunity to share and to read the reflections of others.

  3. QG ... high vs. low expectation churches!

    I totally agree, while there are high expectation churches in the PCUSA, they are few and far between (usually are evangelical and some of the few PCUSA churches that are growing).

    I think the best example of a high expectation church is Rev Rick Warren's Saddleback Church. They expect their members to volunteer their time and talent, and to enter a small group.

    Sure it has a Starbucks, and the worship space is more auditorium than church, but Saddleback expects its congregation to do something besides sit in the pews, er, seats.


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