Outpost in the ‘Burbs

A poll taken in 1990 found that 7% of Americans describe themselves as not religious. By 2008 this number had doubled. Another poll reports that 22% have never attended a religious service—up from 9% in 1972. Did you know that when you divide Long Islanders by religion the second largest group is no affiliation (29%)? The largest group (53%) is the Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants make up only 5% of our neighbors. There are only 6197 members of the United Church of Christ among the 2.7 million people on Long Island.

I begin with this litany of numbers to illustrate how we Congregationalists are such a minority—and all indicators seem to show this trend continuing. The polling date, and those people who interpret such things, predicts that our society will become increasing less interested in religious organizations. Between the rise of secular culture and the great number of people who practice their spirituality in private, we will probably see even smaller church memberships.

It is important to recognize this cultural trend so that we may be acknowledge our place as a societal minority, but also to note that we need to continue to be more creative in finding ways to share the gospel of Jesus with people who have no clue what it means.

We have been blessed in our church that as the long term members retire and move away we have been replacing their number with new families. The fastest growing group in our church is young children. On Palm Sunday we had eleven children in our Angel’s Nest nursery care during worship. This is great news for the future of the church.

This spring we held a leadership retreat with members of our church boards and committees to initiate new ideas for programs and missions for our church. The group identified three areas on which to focus: families with young children, youth, and growing our church without being churchy.

The leadership group felt that we needed to focus on families with young children because it is an area of strength to build on, and that our youth programs need work as their numbers have fallen recently. The “church without being churchy” group focused on how to meet the spiritual needs of people who do not think they would like a church. The retreat generated many great ideas that they will continue to prioritize and implement in the coming months.

Our progressive Protestant church is indeed an outpost in the ‘burbs. The good news is that we have many creative and faithful brothers and sisters in faith who are working hard to share God’s love to all in our Huntington community.

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