It’s not your grandfather’s church | OPINION

It’s hard to grasp the immensity of change that’s shaking up many Marysville churches. It’s like trying to gauge the intensity of a tide when you’re being swept along with it. Yet quite a number of churches in Marysville are growing with (or suffering from) a tide of change that will not leave things as they were.

It took 1,500 years for growing tensions in the church to explode as Martin Luther’s Reformation and it’s taken another 600 for the church to work up to this next adjustment. Given its impact, it’s a wonder that it flies under the media’s radar. It will be rough for some, change that upsets tradition is never smooth, even for those who expect that their God is still in charge.

Old timers wonder why churches shouldn’t carry on as before. That can’t happen because the social terrain has shifted so much that certain church “standard operating procedures” have become irrelevant to the very people they want to reach. Churches had to be reminded that they exist to serve folks who haven’t yet crossed their thresholds and that’s a lot to swallow for members who’ve settled into the old ways.

The spotlight is swinging toward a different focus, more toward loving your neighbor and your enemy, feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked and visiting sick people and prisoners, etc., but without dropping the rest of the Christian package. They call this renewed activism, the Social Gospel.

Champions of the Social Gospel zero in on what the world needs. They plead cases for voiceless nature. They deal with here-and-now stuff, not just getting to heaven. They want to help people figure out God’s purpose for them in this world. And if those happen to be church newbies looking to improve their self-centered lives, they’ll need places where they feel they can ask honest newbie questions, like, “What’s in it for me?”

I checked web-listings for churches in Marysville and found names like Apostolic Truth, City of Refuge, Community of Christ, Eastgate Chapel, Jesus is Lord, Judah Praise Center, New Hope Community  Church, Northridge Church, Northstar Church, Reflection of Love and Turning Point Church. Notice that they don’t highlight alliances with traditional denominations. The public just doesn’t care much anymore about traditional labels and forms of worship.

The change has struck in two ways. There are the startup churches that traditionalists think of as “upstart” churches — think guitars and drums. You may find more motorcycles there than at aging brick-and-mortar churches. And there are reborn congregations where daring preachers inform their people that they have to get out there and “connect” with need or nothing will get done.

Community is the Operative Word today. Check how many of churches listed above include Community in their names. Churches of the community, churches by the community and churches for communities. The Church is finally figuring out that service to community is the most meaningful way to promote its message.

Established churches will either change or wither as the changing social landscape works on them. Grandkids of immigrant settlers don’t stay around to fill pews as their parents did and today’s work-force has become as rootless as military families. The churches European immigrants built as ethnic havens lost that reason-for-being with assimilation. Though shrinking congregations may not like it, the tide has turned and won’t turn back.

The Marysville Assembly of God is now Grove Street Church. Check around town and you’ll find more down-playing of denominational labels — not that those churches drop their unique brands of Christianity — they just choose to soft-peddle the labels to become more invitational.

It’s not a bad thing to blur lines between denominations so long as they hang onto the basics. Quite a few Christians are church-hoppers, worshipping here, there and anywhere. Marysville now has a Lutheran pastor serving St. Phillips Episcopal’s congregation and everyone seems happy with the arrangement.

The emphasis on service to the world at large comes straight from the Bible. It makes sense because it’s outside of churches where you’re more likely to find people in need of a helping hand. Sunday Christians won’t get much done by sitting around chapels like car salesmen, waiting for someone to wander onto the lot.

So these “awakened” churches now celebrate Community by meeting in homes and with free breakfasts and dinners, neighborhood clean-up projects, child-care, support for schools, fun nights and creative projects for youth. They’re working toward a keener sense of need and learning appropriate ways to respond.

The new way is where the excitement lies. Ask Marysville or Arlington church-people who went south to help with the clean up after Katrina. Or ask any of the hundreds who participate in neighborhood clean-up projects. They know for a fact that the future of churches lies in service.

Comments may be addressed to robertgraef@comcast.net.


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