Where do People Find Meaning Today?

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The church wonders why regular worship attendance is now being redefined for many churches as once a month, rather than once a week. Leaders are disappointed at the eroding levels of commitment and think that if they can only invite people more effectively, they will respond just as they used to. The church wonders why, when faced with a choice between a Sunday morning youth sports tournament or church, families often choose the tournament. If we were to ask them, they would probably say it is because they find more meaning, community, and moral formation in the sports team than in church.

We had failed to communicate the life-or-death stakes of the gospel in a way that David could understand.

I’m still haunted by a young man in a church I served some years ago. David (not his real name) was a computer programmer who would attend church only occasionally with his wife and young son. She was actively involved in church and an important volunteer, even while working full-time. But I found it easier to get David to come into the church office to work on the computers during the week than to participate in any religious functions. I learned over time, however, that David was a member of the local volunteer fire company. He spent hours training, serving, and hanging out with the fire team. The fire team was his primary community, not church.

As I reflect on it, I can understand why. The fire company had a clear mission that was undoubtedly a matter of life and death for the whole community. They had strong disciplines that shaped their life together, with real accountability. Being part of the fire team involved hard work and sacrifice, but also high levels of engagement and trust — in a fire, their lives depended upon one another. They were bound together deeply in a shared pattern of life and service.

Somehow, we in the church had never asked that kind of commitment of David. We had failed to communicate the life-or-death stakes of the gospel in a way that he could understand.

Thank God David was serving in the fire company — I wouldn’t want church to interfere with this important service to the wider community. But why couldn’t our church call him to share in its own transformational community focused on God and oriented toward the common good? The fire company may have met many of David’s needs for meaning, belonging, and purpose, but only to a point; the gospel goes much deeper, addressing ultimate realities of suffering and death that any firefighter will eventually encounter firsthand.


This article is excerpted from Dwight’s book, The Agile Church © 2014 Church Publishing Inc, New York, NY 10016. It is also available through Cokesbury and Amazon.

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About Author

Dwight J. Zscheile is associate professor of congregational mission and leadership at Luther Seminary.


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