Randy Varcho photo
Can the mainline church survive in the age of the "inch-deep, mile-wide church of the already-made-up mind?"
This is a dilemma that newsman Ray Suarez of public television's News Hour has spent a lot of time thinking about. An Episcopalian, he shared his thoughts on how the sociological changes in "the Old Neighborhoods" have affected how we do church with a large crowd on River City Saturday afternoon.
For General Synod 27 visitors and delegates, he traced the past 150 years of church history that runs from tent revivals to today's satellite TV ministries. In those early years, churches defined the neighborhoods. Ethnic churches were the places where recent immigrants could practice and preserve customs. The graceful steeples and stained glass windows of holy places served to make the struggling spirits soar.
But, Suarez said, as the Old Neighborhoods turned seedy and the children of the next generations moved to the suburbs, the churches that anchored those neighborhoods lost their congregations. Many of them became social service providers where people did church but no one remained to be the church.
In their place, he noted, came the regional Big Box churches like the 12,500-member megachurch in Plano, Texas, that draws people from three counties. These are churches where members can remain as faceless — and even nameless — as they choose or where they can create the community that's missing from the cookie-cutter developments where they live.
He said we may end up becoming very comfortable with this "post-denominational Christianity" in which the mainline churches fail to thrive.
But Suarez found some cause for hope.
When the "church of the already-made-up mind crumbles under the weight of the really hard questions that make modern life so bewildering for so many, a church that says, 'I love you no matter how you got to my front door is a church that going to make it in the 21st Century, majority/minority America.' "