One of the prominent features of the historic Mainline Church seems to be that each congregation had their own rolls with their own members and those members were committed to that one particular church.
This has changed.
Perhaps the first time I realized this shift was about 20 years ago when a friend in rural Virginia told me that she attended the Sunday morning Bible study in the Baptist Church, worship in the Presbyterian Church and coffee hour in the Episcopal Church every Sunday. I was a little shocked that she was not fully committed to just one of these three congregations. Instead, she was connected to all three and her commitment was shared.
I later worked with a colleague who identified our congregation as just one of his spiritual communities. He was also part of another church in town and he occasionally worshipped there. And he also claimed a neomonastic community in another state as a spiritual home, as well as a couple on-line communities and a spiritual director who was from a completely different tradition.
Most of us who remain in the Mainline Church find that our congregations change weekly. Maybe our membership includes interfaith or ecumenical couples and they spend this Sunday in our community but next Sunday they’ll be at the Catholic Church or at the Quaker meeting. Maybe our membership includes busy families who gather for worship only once or twice a month when they aren’t in the minivan headed to a soccer field or a basketball court.
A Muslim friend of mine once introduced me as “the pastor of her Presbyterian Church.” Sometimes she visited an Episcopal Church. But actually she was Muslim.
So here we are in a very different world. Yes, there are still many church people who gather with their longtime congregations – and perhaps sit in the exact same pew – every week. But there is a shift happening in which commitments are looser and more varied.
Just as we church people used to offer most of our charitable giving to a single congregation, we now spread out our financial contributions to more than one organization. And trends seem to be that we also spread out our time among multiple organizations – church, but also school, sports teams, informal meet-ups, work-related groups, and social groups – when 50-75 years ago, church was our primary spiritual and social outlet.
At least this is what I’ve noticed. Today, church connections continue to shift. Maybe I’m a member of the Lutheran church but I also attend a Bible study with Roman Catholic friends every once in a while, and I also occasionally attend a Faith on Tap gathering in a local bar. And all of it’s church. My church.
Can we be okay with this? Do we need exclusive devotion from our members? Can we share parishioners with other congregations? Do we mind if our people can only participate occasionally?
What do you think?