The music is out in brassy force, the altar flowers are in full
bloom, and the sanctuary is full of people not seen since December.
Ironically, even the visitors know the story, or imagine they do, and
the lectionary readings are always the same—Matthew or John. What does
the preacher say in her second, or 22nd Easter sermon that wasn’t said
Having had the privilege of serving downtown churches in Columbus, Ohio, and in Chicago, I have watched city churches struggle to respond faithfully to dramatically changing environments. Broad Street in Columbus is a street of churches—stately edifices constructed in a time when many of the members lived in the surrounding neighborhoods. But the neighborhoods changed. Members moved away.
The church suffers from a bit of schizophrenia about Palm Sunday.
Should the focus be on Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the
“Hosannas!” of the shouting crowd? Or should the emphasis be placed on
the cross and the “Crucify him! Crucify him!” chants of the people? Is
this a service of exultation or a service of passion?
I’ve noticed an alarming trend in ministry with college students:
they use words better in technological media than in person. Emails,
text messages and even facebook.com posts are often thoughtful,
eloquent and witty. But one-on-one, the same students and I will
stammer about, our words bumping into one another in mid-air.
Every time I happen upon Psalm 16:6, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places,” I think about how any of us comes to be who we are. Some of us in ministry can name the incident or date when we encountered a call to this vocation, but for most of us, I think, the call is a process, not an event.
Construction of religious buildings is at its lowest level since record keeping began in 1967. Declining participation and financial funding and a shift away from megachurches are cited as reasons for the decline. Congregations are also deciding to put more money into ministry rather than structures. The building of religious structures peaked in 2002 and has been decreasing ever since, though there are signs that it may have bottomed out in 2013. Mormons and Muslims, both with growing populations, are exceptions to this trend (Wall Street Journal, December 4).