Early in the day I was examining on Facebook the latest document from the PEW Research Center about the 2014 Religious Landscape Study which states that “The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing…” Although this isn’t really new news to any of us who’ve been in the church for a few years or who have watched our congregations not fill the pews in our churches, it is still startling to me to see the significant declines among mainline Protestants and Catholics in this country.
Later in the day I received an amazing resource from our UCC offices in Cleveland – from the CARD office, which stands for Center for Analytics, Research and Data. The email included that CARD had just completed its annual Congregational Vitality and Ministerial Excellence Report which can be found at the following link: http://uccfiles.com/pdf/UCC-Congregational-Vitality-and-Ministerial-Excellence-Report.pdf I have not yet had time to review it thoroughly and yet I do know that this sort of report can be vital for all of us to read and make ourselves familiar with as the church changes and moves through this unique season of the Church in the 21st century.
We must not lose heart nor shake our heads with shame at these statistics and reports. We know that we are in a major time of revision and renewal in the Christian church. And change can be difficult and can challenge each of us at many different levels. Some of us would prefer to keep our heads down and not lean into the reality of these changes and what they might mean for our local church. Others of us are anxious to get on with the new thing that God has in mind for us even if it isn’t quite clear what the “new thing” really is yet. Others suggest that the crisis of decline in the church is caused by “terminally polite Protestants” and our inability to ask for money and commitment from our congregations.
There are so many possibilities and it is not always clear how to move into the future. I serve among you as your Interim Conference Minister to help this Rhode Island Conference of the United Church of Christ figure out what this group of 30 (plus or minus) churches here in lower New England might do next. We need to have active and engaged conversations about all of this so that we are truly ready to move into whatever future God has in mind for us.
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