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May 23, 2013

A Renewed Purpose and Meaning for Pentecost

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Many believe that the current decline in church attendance directly contributes to the erosion of our quality of life, the deterioration of our sense of community and lack of confidence in the future.


It seems that when I was younger, Pentecost was observed with a greater sense of gravitas, importance and urgency than it is today.


Now everyone wants to talk about his or her entitlements and rights. For those of us who are Christian, these rights and entitlements come with responsibilities.


If you have received the gift of life and benefited from the opportunities the Holy Spirit provides, you have a responsibility to share with others the joys of the church and the better life that comes with knowing Christ.


The statistics on the shrinking church are grim and compelling and require our immediate attention. Fortunately a dialogue has begun in earnest to identify the challenges we face so that we can talk about solutions and spread the word.


Recently I spent a Saturday at a gathering of the Westminster Conference of Lutheran Churches for a discussion on the role that hospitality and evangelism play in reversing the decline in church attendance. The discussion was led by Bishop Wolfgang Herz-Lane and assistant to the bishop, Pastor Ron Schlak.


On January 20,2012, National Public Radio (NPR) did a segment on a recent book, “You Lost Me: Young Christians Rethink Faith.” NPR reported: “Nationwide, many 20-somethings are leaving their churches behind. David Kinnaman and his staff at the research company, The Barna Group, interviewed more than 5,000 Christians, and he says the dropout issue is real and urgent.”


A YouTube video on the book, “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church by David Kinnaman,” noted that of Christians 18-25 years old, 38% have significantly doubted their faith, 57% are less active in church than at age 15, and 59% have dropped out of the church.”


My pastors, Martha and Kevin Clementson at Grace Lutheran Church in Westminster, recently called “You Lost Me” to our congregation’s attention in the church newsletter. Pastor Martha wrote that the “book provides great insights and positive, practical ideas of how we could deepen and strengthen ministry with older youth and young adults.”


Our pastors are looking forward to having a discussion with the church about how we can pro-actively address the issues, reinforce the church’s outreach and strengthen the church’s role in the community by continuing to attract people to the church.


The sense of urgency was emphasized on a national level just this last January when the magazine, “The Lutheran,” carried a picture of a church hard pressed against a winter horizon, at the far end of a cold, snow covered field. The picture was a metaphor for the title of a thoughtful and contemplative article, titled, “The Shrinking Church,” written by Nicole Radziszewski.


“Nearly 30 percent of ELCA churches reported an average worship attendance of fewer than 50 people in 2010. From 2003 to 2011, average weekly worship attendance dropped 26 percent. And from 2009 to 2010, ELCA membership decreased 5.9 percent, the sharpest rate of decline among mainline denominations, according to the National Council of Churches…


“Nearly every U.S. Christian denomination has seen membership declines in the past two years, including Southern Baptists, who seemed invincible in the '70s, '80s and '90s.


“And in 2012 the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reported for the first time that the number of Americans identifying as Protestant dipped below half, to 48 percent….”


Ms. Radziszewski added, “It's no news flash that the ELCA is shrinking. But where is everyone going? And more importantly, where do we go from here?”


Well, just where do we go from here? Many are asking the same question. Many are looking to others for the answers. Maybe, beginning with the celebration of Pentecost, we need to look inside for the answers.


This comes at a time when leadership, values and beliefs could not be more important to addressing the challenges we face. Take a memo: faith in the government to lead us out of this wilderness will not cut it.


In March 2005, columnist Doug Giles said it best in an article, “Robust Faith,” in the publication,; in which he admonished:


“If Christians would toughen up a bit, get out of the religious closet, follow their faith instead of their fears, and live their beliefs in a more robust way, we would once again change the face of this nation…


“If the Christian truly follows the Christ of the Bible and wants to impact this planet positively, then he will spend significant and intentional time away from his church buddies and in the company of people who are fundamentally not of his stripe…


“In this day of rabid terrorists, scrappy secularists, and undaunted demons, the believer must seriously have his spiritual act together or he will soon become religious road kill…”


It is not up to someone else to provide the leadership to introduce Christ into our community. The buck stops with us – you and me; no one else. Leadership is facilitating change by way of leading folks to a place that they may not have the foresight to understand that they need to go.


The opportunity provided by a renewed discussion over what the church has to offer individuals and the community is great. One commentary on the Lutheran magazine article observed, “The harvest is full, but it is waning, and workers are really needed. We can stop this shrinking Church if we will take Jesus Christ seriously. We must go out and visit our neighbors.”


The stakes are high. Our families and community cannot prosper if the church and society fails.


Happy Pentecost.


. . . . .I’m just saying. . . .


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