This continues following posts with John Thomas' assessment of the external and internal reasons for decline. His advice to us:
1) "Get over it!" We must get past 35 years of resentment over our decline and longing for days when our churches were respected centers of religious faith
2) Move from a mainline alignment to a "missional" alignment. If we fell like the culture has abandoned us, should we run after it. Should we try to gain "respectability." Some people were embarrassed by our TV commercials such as The Bouncer and The Ejector Seat because they saw their own church's behavior in them. We can't reject evangelism and expect anyone to be in our pews. And the ads were exactly about evangelism in a UCC style.
3) Move from taking care of who is there to who might not yet be there. What are their needs? It isn't to dismiss current members, but a church isn't a club and it must examine it's practices to see whether that is indeed the biggest priority for staff time and resources. Should the clergy be focused on pastoral visitation or empowering lay people to provide such caring resources?
4) Identify our "niche," which Thomas describes as:
a) moderate to progressive
b) publicly engaged
c) belief that government is a partner in serving the needs of society, not the enemy
d) we need social institutions and support them
e) interfaith openness
f) religious pluralism
5) focus less on training young people to be "nice" Congregationalists and provide more in-depth faith formation - how to pray, how to do biblical reflection so that when they are in college, they are both prepared for their own spiritual sustenance but also to speak intelligently to the predominant presence of conservative religious groups. Teach them spiritual practices for how to live in their 20s and 30s, when most young people are not engaged in church.
6) bring rich, lively liturgical experiences to worship. An irony about young people in church today is that they are embracing such practices as weekly communion, praying with icons, lighting candles, and other ancient practices - while at the same time expecting worship to move at a different pace than traditional mainline worship, especially music
7) get more "feisty." Challenge the desire to be "respectable." He cited the example of welcoming Sponge Bob to his office after James Dobson said the cartoon character was gay.
8) invest in the church today so it may live tomorrow. Similar resources will likely not be available
9) embrace technology in worship, even if it's purpose is to enhance ancient Christian practices
John gave us much to think about. And if nothing else, how individual each setting is and how lonely that can feel. In isolation, our churches might feel like they are failing individually. But together, they might find ideas and strength for a new day.