Normally we don't deal with matters that are strictly speaking ecclesiastical. But this piece in today's Tennessean caught my eye. The headline reads provocatively--Churches blame empty pews on fewer babies. Babies could not be reached for comment, but the Tennessean talked to Church growth types and looked at the statistics.
There's nothing anti-gay about the article, but my ears perk up any time someone suggests that the answer to a problem is in more fertility. Furthermore, the piece argues that conservative denominations are now either seeing a slight decline or a slowing of their growth, which does have an impact on GLBT issues. But back to fertility. I think that is one force in the decline of these churches, but there are some thoughts in the article that suggest the problem is more complex. Consider this cutline under one of the photos:
"Paul Prill leads the Wednesday night song service at Acklen Avenue Church of Christ in Nashville. The church's population fell when its children grew up and moved away. "
But while Nashvillians were busy moving away, weren't lots of people moving to Middle Tennessee who more than took their place? Some churches are simply not adapting to the mobility of our society. While not everyone moving to a new city is looking for a Church home, many people are. And if a Church is too caught up in being an institution designed for a few families who have been there for generations, then it won't put forth the effort to welcome the hundreds of new people who arrive in the city every day to start a new phase in their lives.
I guess there's also a theological issue I have with ministers and Church officials saying that babies are the answer. While God does say to humankind in Genesis, "Be fruitful and multiply," Christ says nothing of the kind in the Great Commission. That was more about preaching and baptizing, as I recall. So the issue, as always, is mission. What is the Church supposed to be doing?
I'm fortunate to be a parishioner at Christ Church Cathedral where the sense of mission is strong. During the Easter Vigil every year a number of babies are baptized and adults are confirmed or received into the Church. Outreach in the city is strong. The worship has integrity. And the GLBT community, for whom fertility is not typically the primary consideration, is welcome. I think what is so striking is that there are so many roles for lay persons in the parish. There is a strong, diffused sense of responsibility among the laity and newcomers can find a great place to worship and their own way of contributing to the work of the parish.
If the priests were to suggest that we should start having more babies, I think they would be met with blank stares.