Gathering interfaith history: 11-7-11
The meaning of salvation: 11-9-11

Faith's need for hospitality: 11-8-11

Congregations of various faiths often struggle with how to attract new members. Indeed, Mainline Protestant denominations have seen membership declines for decades now. And the Catholic church in America would have registered similar declines were it not for the immigrant population.

Jan-Edmiston-1Perhaps one reason for the failure to draw people into the fold is that often the people already there are interested in pleasing their own tastes and not the tastes of people they're seeking to attract.

The Rev. Jan Edmiston (pictured here) of the Presbytery of Chicago spoke to members of my congregation over the weekend and told a story that I want to share with you about this very point.

"I went to a new church development conference a few years ago and was talking to a guy.  He's an older guy and I said, 'So tell me about your new church.'

"He said, 'You know what? We meet at a school and it really doesn't do anything for me. I really like traditional church buildings in stone. And the music, I really don't like the music. It's just really not my style. I don't listen to that kind of music on the radio. And the worship is a little jumpy for me and I'm not really into it.'

"So I said, 'Let me get this straight. You're on the Session (board of elders) of this church and you don't like the space, you don't like the music, you don't like the worship. So why are you there?'

"And his face kind of lit up and he said, 'Because I would trade all of my favorite things in worship to see that many young adults in worship every Sunday who come through our doors. So I'm willing to give up what I like for the kingdom of God.'

"I said, 'That's great. But how do you feed your soul?' And he said, 'I feed my soul by talking to these kids after worship during coffee hour. . .that's what feeds my soul.'"

Clearly faith communities must meet people where they are and display profound hospitality if they hope to interest people in becoming part of that community and eventually affirming that community's theology and the life such theology requires of its adherents.

If churches and synagogues and mosques and other houses of worship insist on thoughtlessly doing things the way they've done them for 50 years, it will be clear to newcomers that they're not really welcome. Which may explain at least some of the decline in Mainline churches.

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Speaking of hospitality, here's a feel-good interfaith story: Two Muslim men have bought an old Jewish bagel shop in New York to save it from closing and plan to keep it kosher. Could we get everyone involved in this to go to the Middle East and settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?


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