It seems as if the institutional church is on a steep road down to nowhere. The latest numbers show church attendance is down and continues to go down across the board. We all know it, and we aren't doing much about it. At least that's what we've been told. I may be a hopeless romantic, or believe that there is hope where there is none, but the church can learn a little something from the two football teams playing in the Super Bowl this year.
Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers have been counted out by commentators and most everyone for that matter since before the season began. Peyton Manning is considered by many to be on his way out by the same commentators and fans. These two will clash in a game with likely over one hundred million people watching. No pressure, right? I wonder if they feel like the institutional church while they prepare for the big dance on February 7th.
You see I'm pretty certain that the church will go on. It may not go on as it once was, or how it used to be, but it will go on. It will take time, effort, and energy from everyone, including Baby Boomers and Millennials alike. Christians of all denominations love the church and its mission, so Christians must embark on their own pilgrimage to the Super Bowl of their existence.
Now is a time for the church to step up to the plate. My grandmother always told me growing up a saying she had taught to her as a child, "The church is always one generation away from extinction." If that is true, there is no better time for this generation to step up to the plate. What does that look like you might ask?
Lately I've been doing a lot of writing and research on Millennial trends with the church, and no it's not for punishment or self-deprecation. I'm working on a book that's an alternative to the narrative of everyone leaving in droves. What I've found is remarkable: There are countless sung and unsung heroes and heroines in the church doing good work today. These are great Millennial minds that choose to stay. It may seem like the church is counted out but just because the church isn't what it used to be. But that doesn't mean it can't be something new, beautiful, and profound today.
The great poet Alfred Lord Tennyson's work Ulysses speaks to the institution for this time and place, "Though much is taken, much abides; and though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; one equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
If the church wants to begin to change toward a more just, equitable, and loving reality, then the church cannot yield. It must be willing to go to the margins, to stay there with the disenfranchised and the broken. For that is where this version of the institution can do its best work. Leaner attendance does not always mean dying, and maybe trimming down will bring the church to its core.
So, like many Americans, I'm watching this Super Bowl with great anticipation. (Full disclosure my allegiance is with the Panthers, I am from North Carolina so I would expect no less) I'm also watching the church with great anticipation. For I'm certain that the church still has some fight left in it.