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Hansen: Churches try to save themselves

April 12, 2012|By David Hansen
(Courtesy David…)

Early Easter morning at Alta Laguna Park, as the sun rose in the east, the plaintive sounds of Native American music floated among a group of about 20 people.

Pastor B.J. Beu of the Neighborhood Congregational Church played a flute while a drum kept the beat.

The ceremony included a "centering prayer," where the people faced the four directions with the invitation to "listen to the earth."

While it also had more traditional references to the meaning of Easter, the ceremony clearly was not your typical church service.

Which is the point.

Today's churches cannot survive on traditional services alone. In fact, with the aging baby boomers and lower attendance, many churches are already making changes.

Over the last 10 years, attendance has dropped between 10% to 20% at the major Protestant denominations, Episcopal, United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran and Presbyterian, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Lewis Center for Church Leadership.

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Mainline churches have a disproportionate percentage of people older than 65, and at the same time they have failed to reach a younger audience.

"I think part of the challenge we're going to face is that in the Christian church we have our little territories," said the Rev. Elizabeth Rechter, of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Laguna.

Rechter fears that if churches hold on too tightly, they will lose mindshare.

"I think we're going to see some churches just closing down, frankly," she said. "I don't know. I don't know what's going to happen."

There is hope, Rechter said, believing that the structure and mission of many churches have started to change with the times by trying to instill confidence.

"It has a lot to do with authority," she said. "The church, the institutional church, is changing just like the rest of the culture. It's flattening. The hierarchy is flattening.

"As that happens, there's less authority given to one person, the head of the church, the rector, the preacher. In time we all have something to preach. We all have something to say."

It can be argued that this type of spiritual democracy is a byproduct of similar movements happening throughout the world. It is no longer about one way of seeing, believing or understanding our environment. It's multifaceted and dynamic.

For example, how many people now do yoga? It's almost in every strip mall. In fact, it's the fastest growing "sport" in the U.S.

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