Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Religious Congregation Geography

I stumbled upon a curious item in today's Post-Gazette. Dr. Diana Butler Bass is trying to understand why some churches thrive while others continue to lose members. Churches are communities and can tell us something about why larger communities, say Pittsburgh, are struggling. Americans have a choice of community, which is something Dr. Bass sees playing out in the vitality of certain congregations:

Americans are looking for new ways to experience religious community. Thriving congregations have been able to change the way they do ministry to create those communities, she said. Those that keep offering conventional church programs from the 1950s wither and die.

Today's American's don't inherit faith, they choose it, [Dr. Bass] said. Her research suggests "that millions of people would choose mainline denominations if we gave them something worth choosing."

Obviously, Pittsburgh needs to create something worth choosing. What is worth choosing might surprise some people. Dr. Bass highlights the value of diversity for community vitality, "That included racial diversity, theological diversity, political diversity, and diversity of life experience."

Home, like a church, is a place where you can safely explore a meaningful life. A place where a person can find such expression is one worth choosing. Pittsburgh should be in the business of facilitating that journey to fulfillment, which is much more than gainful employment. What successful churches are doing is fostering an entrepreneurial spirit, empowering people to seek personal growth and satisfaction.

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