In her research into thriving congregations around the country, Butler-Bass discovered that the makeup of the different congregations were the result of new ways of gathering together in community. No longer were people necessarily joining churches because of their loyalty to a denomination, geographical proximity to the church, or heritage of family faith.
These congregations are forming or renewing, thriving and growing because they opened their arms to one or more different groups defined more by their current experiences rather than by a shared past.
- Many of these churches are filled with people who had dropped out of church altogether for a significant period of time and now were returning and awakening to new spirituality
- Other churches were known as places where people who felt exiled from their original faith tradition found welcome and new home
- Some churches became safe places where immigrants from other countries could find rest, security and cultural connection while getting established in a new land
- One church’s members and attenders were mostly converts to the faith, not having any previous Christian experience
- And then there are others who have always called their congregation home, but who are not trying to hold onto the past, but help their congregation move into the future. They’re interested in seeing their historic expression of faith be renewed and create a new village of believers worshiping and serving together
Most mainline congregations are rapidly dying, and I would guess Diana would say it is because they have not recognized that what built and sustained their community in the past won’t sustain it into the future.
Historically for Adventism, our growth happened by converting others to our way of interpreting scripture by depending upon the common cultural belief that the Bible was perfect, holy and something to be obeyed at all costs. If we convinced people that we understood the Bible more correctly than they did, we would get many to join us because they wanted to be faithful to the Bible. Then our education system would teach our kids and grandkids the faith and keep them in the church.
What does Adventism do now when the country has already and continues to move rapidly away from the belief in the inerrancy of scripture? And now that the majority of Adventist children don’t attend Adventist schools, how do we raise our children to have a thriving, active faith in God and devote their lives in service to others? If people no longer join churches based upon the correctness of doctrine, how does Adventism survive? Can existing or new Adventist congregations be defined by something other than adherence to a scriptural belief system?