Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Eye of the Beholder -- Perceptions of Church Life

When we think about perception we often speak in terms of gender, ethnicity, or generations. And there are differences, obviously. And yet, when it comes to church life, there's another aspect to be considered. That is -- whether one is new or old (by old I mean long term member).
Martha Grace Reese, in her recently released book -- Unbinding the Gospel (Chalice Press, 2007) -- provides a helpful reminder as to these differences/similarities.
In her Mainline Evangelism Project survey Reese discovered that the key difference in perception relates to whether one has been raised in the church or not.

If you grew up in the church, no matter how cool and young you are, don't assume you know what people outside the church are thinking or what they want! Early in your life, you absorbed Christian theology, behaviors, values, and understandings. These unconscious influences shape the way you think about life and what's real. If you want to know what nonchurch people think or what they expect, you have to ask them. Don't presume that you know. (Unbinding the Gospel, p. 74).

When we look at the church from within we do so with an expectation of what's comfortable, and that comfortability is planted early on in our church life. And we can't help ourselves!!!
Thus:

Like it or not, the survey found that the opinions of 40-year-0lds raised in the church are a lot more like the preferences of 80-year-olds raised in church than they are like 40-year-olds who were not raised in the church. If you grew up with liturgy and hymns, you probably feel comfortable with them. You experienced God early in connection with the smells of Easter lilies and the colors of Christmas pageants, with the doxology, hanging banners and the songs you loved from camp. (Unbinding the Gospel, 75).

This is good to know!!! It's also scary!

2 comments:

Mystical Seeker said...

That makes a lot of sense to me. It suggests that most people's religious sensibilities often have very much to do with things like upbringing and culture, and are not necessarily things that we have any conscious influence over. It can be an ingrained preference, and this (in my opinion) ties in to the concept of religious pluralism. Loyalty is a funny thing sometimes.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Right you are, and this is why it makes the transition so tricky. We are invested in our language and our ritual, even if they no longer speak to the world. Thus, the job of someone like me is a bit difficult. I have to bring along the ones who are here already while trying to find ways of translating what we do for those not here!!!