Redefining Declension So Numbers Ascend

When you are having trouble with lack of resolve and dwindling numbers among the communicants (and clergy), you find a different paradigm that allows you to turn defeat into victory. For instance, David Robertson reported on efforts within the Church of Scotland to advance Christianity and extend membership:

Rev John Chalmers, Moderator of the Church of Scotland, is a good spokesman for the Church of Scotland. He is personable, warm and says some interesting things. In that vein, in the next edition of Life and Work he has made what has been termed as a ‘radical New Year’s message’. He wants the church to find 100,000 new members in the next decade. What can we say to that? Fantastic. 10,000 new Christians per year in Scotland would be a tremendous boost to us all. How encouraging for the whole Church if the Church of Scotland was to do that. I long and pray for that and I would rejoice if it came through the Church of Scotland. It won’t be easy. This year Church of Scotland membership fell below 400,00 for the first time and seems to be in free-fall. To reverse the 20,000 members per year deficit and turn it into a surplus of 10,000 would be enough of a miracle to cause even the most cynical secularist to doubt!

The Moderator is fed up with statistics (otherwise known as facts) that highlight decline, so he wants to change that. He asserts that the “truth about the number of people who belong to our faith communities is quite different”. Indeed it is, but not in the way he suggests. However it is worth quoting him more extensively: “The real challenge is to redefine membership in a way that allows us to include women and men, young and old who do not fit the post-Second World War model of membership with which we are so familiar. That pattern does not resonate with the vast majority of those who are 50 and younger and who will never buy into the kind of church that sits so comfortably with me and my way of expressing my Christian faith.

“It might pain me to say it, but it’s time for a radical change and I don’t mean a change of hymns, or a visually-aided sermon or a new time of day for traditional forms of worship. I mean something much more far reaching than that.”

He said: “I want us to explore how people might be able to belong to the Church of Scotland rooted in reality, which can interact with them in the context of an online community, but also be there for them when they need real human contact.”

Rev Chalmers thinks that because 1.7 million Scots in the 2011 census associated themselves with the Church of Scotland its an opportunity to bring them into the membership of the church. That’s why he wants to ‘redefine’ membership so that those who are not currently members can be counted as such. Social media, Facebook and twitter could be used to help this process. He was supported in this by former Moderator, Rev Albert Bogle, who stated, “there are a huge number out there who need to be nurtured and strengthened in their faith.”

It may not have the same ecclesial standing as a moderator of a European national church, but the challenge thrown down by Roman Catholic sociologists to the work of Christian Smith on the religious convictions and practices of U.S. adolescents reveals a similar use of ecclesiastical beer goggles (the statistics, like homely gals, are easier on the eyes after a couple pints) to make the best of a difficult situation:

Our studies show that pre-Vatican II Catholics learned a compliance-oriented approach that emphasized the teaching authority of the clergy, demanded strict adherence to all official church teachings, and often relied on fear and guilt to produce record-high levels of conformity.

Then, as a result of changes in American society and changes in the Catholic church, everything changed. Pre-Vatican II Catholics’ best efforts to pass their compliance-centered understanding of the faith on to their children were often mitigated by the cultural revolution of the 1960s and the implementation of Vatican II, both of which fostered a more personal approach to religion.

The three most recent generations learned a more conscience-centered approach that emphasizes Catholics’ responsibility for their own faith, including their responsibility to inform their own consciences, and to follow them as much as possible, even if this involves disagreement with church teachings. . . .

Members of these younger generations are not just “cafeteria Catholics” who “pick and choose” whatever parts of the faith they like. They continue to embrace core doctrinal teachings such as the divinity of Christ and his real presence in the sacraments; love of neighbor; and concern for the poor. But they are more selective in their religious practices, and are more likely to disagree with teachings that they consider unimportant, optional, coercive or wrong — especially those related to sexual and reproductive issues. . . .

Smith’s team draws a very different set of conclusions. What we call a shift from one approach to another, Smith and his colleagues call a story of “decline and loss.” Where we see adaptation to changing circumstances, they see the erosion of Catholicism. They tend to see departures from the compliance model of the 1940s and ’50s as a downward spiraling of the church. This is especially true in their interpretations of young Catholics’ low rates of Mass attendance.

According to Smith and his colleagues, “compared both to official Catholic norms of faithfulness and to other types of Christian teens in the United States [especially young Mormons and young evangelical Protestants], contemporary U.S. Catholic teens are faring rather badly,” “show up as fairly weak” and reflect “the relative religious laxity of their parents.”

Then there are the Callers who represent a logic all of their own.

4 thoughts on “Redefining Declension So Numbers Ascend

  1. I know a girl I graduated with who is furiously Roman Catholic – but doesn’t go to Mass. Why should she? She receives communion at the small-groups and youth-rallies she attends. Her priest wears a collar and a stole, but also uses power-point in his sermons and loves to join the praise band on his ukelele.

    Bryan and the Callers need to forget logic. Their church left that behind a long time ago. If Bryan and the Callers really want to know what their Church stands for, they’ll need to get out more.

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  2. “Our studies show that pre-Vatican II Catholics learned a compliance-oriented approach that emphasized the teaching authority of the clergy, demanded strict adherence to all official church teachings, and often relied on fear and guilt to produce record-high levels of conformity.”

    Who knew Bryan was that old?

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  3. Bryan is best described as….

    well….

    you know how Reformed kooks have to segregate and split until it’s just their 6 children and their dutiful wife and their brother in the pews…

    well….

    take that through another 3 splits and you approach Bryan’s relationship to the honest to goodness Roman Catholic Church today…

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  4. Read that NCR article last night. Basically what those sociologists are saying is that there are lots of good Catholics because there are lots of different definitions of what it means to be a good Catholic.

    So much for the superior paradigm.

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