DCC News

 

Weekly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Dublin Community Church

 

February 29, 2008

                                                           

                                      

Old & New Barometers of Religiosity

Drawn on the Attendance Register was a little smiley face…you know, the kind that shows a circle with two eyes and a nice smile. A smiley face.

Every week during announcements, I mention the Attendance Registration sheets and every week nearly everyone signs in. We look at the registrations for home addresses, email addresses and any comments that folks might have. We aren’t expecting anything weighty, like a discussion on the rapture or who wrote the Epistle of James or how to cure prickly heat. But people add little funny notes, they might say, “Hi Bob” or “Go Bucks.” I can tell when your kids have written something to me or occasionally taken to practicing their “ABC’s’ or just plain scribbled. It is OK. We look over the sheets, extract needed information and if there is scribbling, no problem. These Registration sheets are not sent to the Smithsonian.

But in the past week, there were two smiley faces on the sheets. One was from a member of many years and beside the smiley face was a little note…”Hi Bob.” I smiled at the smiley face and the greeting and I say to MC…greetings to you also. It was a simple, delightful gesture.

On the Registration Sheets, next to where you sign your name are little boxes to check. “Member” “Attend Regularly” “Wish to Join” “Desire a Call” “New Resident” “Visitor” We pour over these carefully, like an electrician searching a fuse box and studying an electrical diagram.

It’s always interesting to follow “visitors” over a month or two to the point where they begin to refer to themselves as “attend regularly” (you thought we really didn’t notice such things, but we do). Then eventually, sometimes, they mark “wish to join” and we discuss their course of action with them.

Well, this past Sunday was New Members Sunday. We brought in a sizeable class of new members who will challenge us, worship with us and become a part of us as we become a part of them. But one family who had previously marked “visitor” and then after some weeks “attend frequently” now, for the first time, because they officially joined the church…marked the box, “Member.” And beside that “Member” box, they drew a simple, little smiley face.

That simple gesture of friendship and pride was one of the sweetest things I have ever seen. I suppose I could wax theological about becoming a member and the joys of joining us as we attempt to follow Christ. I could become poetic about the benefits of joining with (somewhat) like-minded friends in a church congregation. I could site studies of the advantages of declaring your faith publicly and being in covenant with others. But, frankly that person said it all when they put a smiley face next to checking the “Member” box for the first time.

Did you read the article recently about church membership in America and what people seek and do not seek in churches? Here is what the Washington Post article said, “More than 40 percent of respondents told pollsters that they had changed their religious affiliation since childhood.”

There is a lot of lateral movement (my term) within the Christian religion as people move from Presbyterian and Baptist to Methodist or to the UCC or the other way. Roman Catholics are joining Protestant churches. Evangelicals move within evangelical circles but go to different churches.

 

Name-brand-Christianity means less. If Mom and Dad were Lutherans, it cannot be assumed that the children will remain there. A Roman Catholic woman will marry an Episcopalian and it cannot necessarily be assumed that the Episcopalian will convert to Catholicism and the kids will be raised Roman Catholic. From what we have seen around here, the chances are pretty good that the husband and wife will choose a “third party” church that meets their worship needs. And that “third party” church just might be a place like Dublin Community Church.

New people are pretty unclear about who or what the “United Church of Christ” is all about. It has served my family quite well over the past century and a quarter when Great Grandpa Heitzler got off the boat from Germany and made his way to Lima and happened across the German-speaking First German Reformed Church. That church eventually made its way into the Evangelical and Reformed Church and then into the United Church of Christ (and eventually back out of the UCC, but that is a story for another time and place.)

So, it served my family well. Today, the general attitude that I see in new people visiting and worshipping and eventually joining is….does this church fit me (and my family). Indeed, people want to know about the hot-button issues, but it seems to me that THE critical issues for new folks are; am I greeted warmly and made to feel welcome (AND not pressured to join in this and that immediately)? Does the worship service contain elements of joy, scripture and tradition with which I am familiar? I list those in no particular order, but by “traditional”, I sense that folks like hearing a few of the familiar hymns and having familiarity with parts of the liturgy.

But, if I was asked to name one reason that folks stay and attend regularly and eventually join. I would not hesitate to sum it up in a none-theological phrase; “it just feels right to them.” Lot and lots of head, heart and mind things go into the decision but people are church-shoppers these days and the big survey which I read about in the Post and New York Times bears out that people are not necessarily tied to the churches of their parents.

As the Post article put it;
Old barometers of religiosity such as church membership are becoming less important as Americans craft a more bottom-up, individualized concept of faith.”

Could be. But for us, at this moment; I pay attention to how people react and when they come in contact with us and what indications they give us when becoming a “Member.” And when they playfully put a “smiley face” next to their marking the “Member” box for the first time; then it puts a smile on my face too.

Welcome to your new church home. J (And thank you MC and JS!)

Peace, Rev. Bob Tussing