What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-23-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-23-21

Recently First Church member Bill Bentley shared an opinion piece entitled “America is no longer as evangelical as it was – and here’s why” as fuel for conversation among Granby congregations. Author Diana Butler Bass shares her personal faith journey from a mainline Protestant upbringing to her “born again” experience in high school, which led to immersion in the Evangelical world, to her journey back to an Episcopalian church. She connects her personal faith journey to the latest poll from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), which released its American Religious Landscape Survey for 2020.

Many of the findings showed previously identified trends continuing: increasing racial and ethnic diversity, increasing religious diversity, increasing numbers of people identifying as “unaffiliated.” One surprising trend reversal: the survey showed between 2018 and 2020 a slight uptick in the percentage of white Christians. Still more surprising: this was despite an accelerated drop in the percentage of white Evanglicals. Even still more surprising: this was due to an increase in the percentage of white people identifying as mainline Protestant.

Butler Bass has theories about this reversal. I have theories about this reversal. I won’t get into them here. I’ll let readers draw their own conclusions. There are, however, implications for our Granby UCC consolidation/restart project. 

  1. This is a simple reminder that trends–whether decline or growth–are not immutable. Butler Bass warns against fantasies of returning to the “golden-age” or mid 20th century mainline dominance. Nevertheless, mainline demise is not inevitable. There’s an opportunity here for those congregations willing to meet it.
  2. Almost 20 years ago pastor and author Brian McLaren–whose faith journey resonates with Butler Bass’ (and mine)–wrote More Ready Than You Realize: The Power of Everyday Conversations.  Butler Bass’ piece reminded me of this title. My guess is that Granby has a sizeable number of unaffiliated folks and folks for whom the Evanglical church is no longer a good fit. They may be looking–as I was many years ago–for another way of being Christian. We could offer that to them. That is why I continue to encourage us to reach new people. Now more than ever there are increasing numbers of Diana Butler Bass’, Brian McLarens, and Todd Yonkmans out there. They might be interested in what we have to offer if we offer it to them.
  3. One caution: success in reaching people who are looking for an alternative, more inclusive way of being Christian will require mainline folks to critically examine their own prejudices against Evangelicals. My guess is that this is one of the primary barriers to folks who might otherwise be interested in checking us out. I can attest that throughout my 25 year career I’ve heard remarks and experienced attitudes from UCC folks that heard through the ears of my Evangelical upbringing sound very offputting and unwelcoming, which is disconcerting coming from a church that says, “Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” For a helpful examination of “liberal” prejudice see Van Jones’ “Big Think” talk on disagreement vs. disrespect. Let’s truly commit to meeting everyone wherever they find themselves on the journey.

Author: toddyonkman

I am a husband, father, author, and Designated Term Transitional Pastor of First Church of Christ in Saybrook (CT).

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