The Z factor and the end of Church – is it really happening?

There are have been proclamations, rants, even celebrations by some that with the fall in church attendance across the mainline Christian denominations that the days of “going to church” are quickly coming to an end.  By this I mean the days of packing the family up in the car and driving to a Sunday morning worship service, perhaps Sunday school and fellowship hall gatherings over burned coffee and cookies fresh out of a box.  To this bit of Americana I would have to agree – the days of this picture are fading faster than a Polaroid on a bulletin board (note: given that Kodak is discontinuing the Polaroid line, this metaphor is ironically fading out as well).

Is this such a bad thing? Well, a number of post-church (aka ’emergent’) folks have been banging this drum for most of the late 1990’s and into the current century and have made quite a nice living on book deals and speaking gigs that have stirred the dismay and questioned the notion of “church” as a modernist construct to the point of people gathering around their books and conferences rather than as collectives of the Body of Christ.  Those who attend many of these “we are different” and”embrace Otherness” and  “not your father’s Christianity” and “meaning as Twitter feed”  gatherings seem to keep coming and the folks who put them on are able to pay their mortgages so something is working, right?   (btw –  many so-called ’emergent’ folks will ‘hate on’ this alignment of “emergent” = “post-church”… but emergent folks hate on any label… kinda cute actually…)

That said, my worry goes deeper than the business models of the so-called ‘different without a Creed’ gatherings.  My worry is that ultimately ‘the Church is Christ in the world’ (a phrase stated rather boldly by Dietrich Bonhoeffer)  and as such has such a brutally fractured presence in the world that it resembles the torn apart corpse of the Levites concubine in Judges 19-22 (if you are interested in this troubling section of the Hebrew Bible that is never preached on and not found in any lectionary, my colleague Frank Spina provides a great lecture on iTunesU available here)

What is left of the presence of the church other than torn apart, sun-bleached and picked over chunks of flesh and bone fragments as Christians continue to passively participate in ever-shrinking circles of affinity that rarely engage a larger conversation that could mean the end of their perspective and the beginning of some new relationship?

This is the question that is driving my book project entitled “The Z factor” which is a meditation on the words of the Minor Prophets and in particular the book of Zechariah.  It is something I have been musing over for a while and feel that it is time to kick start the project again.  I will be posting thoughts on it over the coming weeks and look forward to your contributions and help in musing these questions over…

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