The pastors who attended last week's National Pastors Convention have now returned to their churches across North America. David Swanson presents his final reflections on the convention and the issues it brought to his attention.
Now that the National Pastors Convention has ended, I'd like to offer my highly unscientific observations about some trends I observed this past week.
The Denominational Dilemma
During the conference, the Pew Forum released its U. S. Religious Landscape Survey, which demonstrates the ease with which people move between denominations. According to the survey, 44 percent of Americans have made a significant shift in their religious affiliation, whether moving between faiths and denominations or detaching completely from any tradition. This week different presenters have noted that this survey presents trends many of us have experienced in our churches.
In many ways, this conference, with its speakers and worship leaders from many denominations and backgrounds, reflected the Pew research. Some there considered this fluidity a positive development because it allows people to experience more of the Christian tradition. Others were wringing their hands, claiming this "pick and choose" mentality keeps believers from being deeply rooted in the Faith. What most agreed must be addressed is number of those reflected in the survey who leave the faith all together.
A Place for a New Generation
On Wednesday I attended a session about how churches can attract and retain the younger generation. I was surprised to find this session absolutely packed: church leaders were standing in the back of the room and sitting on the floor hoping for some insight into this generational dilemma. From my vantage point I watched the room of mostly 40 and 50-year-olds furiously scribbling notes as the two 30-year-old presenters spoke about the traits of their generation.
It was clear from the popularity of this session, and others like it, that pastors and other church leaders have awoken to the disconnect between their church subcultures and those who have grown up in a postmodern environment. But what will this interest lead to? Will churches look for new programs and methods to attract this generation? Or will they be willing to adapt at significant levels, so that a new generation will see the church as a worthy investment of their lives? Time will tell.
The Global Church
Throughout the week, we were we addressed by church leaders from South America, Europe, and Africa. We had the choice to attend seminars with titles like: "Redefining Power: Finding Our Place in a Global Church"; "Hispanic Integration in the USA: We Can be United Under the Cross"; "Two-Way Mission: When Globalization Changes the Way We Think." It appears the American church may be realizing that the influence of the global church has shifted away from the West.
The issues these global leaders presented raise many questions for those of us who have now returned to our churches in America's small towns, suburbs, and cities. How do we lead our congregations in ways that honor Christian family around the world, whose experience of faithful discipleship may be radically different from ours? How do we equip our churches to face the realities of a globalized existence? How might we engage with the vision and leadership of the church in the global South?
I look forward to your comments.
- David Swanson