Last week, something fascinating unfolded on Facebook. Church of God Ministries, our national office in Anderson, maintains a Facebook page to help Church of God people connect with each other. (It’s very similar to Mt. Haley’s Facebook page, but it reaches a much broader audience than ours does.) Occasionally, the people who maintain that page will ask a question, post a thought, or share a picture – and usually not a whole lot of discussion takes place.
That was not the case this week, when Church of God Ministries asked these questions: “How can the Church of God re-engage congregations, from California to the New England states? And, what would you say the Church of God needs to do to re-engage the younger generation?”
What followed was an intense, thoughtful discussion involving many different individuals. This is rather unusual for Facebook, especially for an online discussion about faith-related issues! Many of the responses were short and terse calls to “preach the Word of God alone” and “get back to the basics” – a kind of “scripture only” stance that many Christian groups have called for over the years. (In Latin, one would say “sola scriptura“; that phrase was a guiding principle of the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther in the 1500s.) While I agree with the principle, there’s nothing uniquely Church of God about that stance.
Many people discussed our annual national campmeeting, which has always been held in Anderson, Indiana. Some people are calling for a moving, rotating convention so that people in all locations have equal opportunity to attend a campmeeting that is close to them. Others are concerned about programming, service opportunities, and speakers at these conventions. Several mentioned how the 20-to-30-something age bracket is missing at the national campmeeting and, not coincidentally, in our local congregations. Again, many church groups (we can use the word “denominations”) are struggling with issues like these.
But one theme kept popping up over and over. While all of the above issues are important, the identity of the Church of God resurfaced again and again as a question that needs to be answered. If we are just another church group that holds annual conventions and connects local churches together and is losing touch with people in their third decade of life, then woe to us. If we do not have compelling reasons to exist as “The Church of God (Anderson, Indiana),” then perhaps we should join arms with other like-minded church groups like the Nazarenes, Free Methodists, and Wesleyans. I would argue that history, tradition, hymnody, emotional attachment, and generational connectedness are not good reasons to exist as a denomination. (These were many of the ideas mentioned in the Facebook discussion!)
Christian faith is about one thing – salvation through Jesus Christ – and the far-reaching consequences of that salvation. We live in a time of great division and distinction among church groups, and truthfully I don’t see that changing any time soon. Denominations are here to stay. While some might question the legitimacy and validity of other church groups (and this is part of our history in the Church of God), I believe each group has something important to contribute to the conversation about salvation through Jesus Christ.
This is what we as the Church of God must figure out in the years that lie ahead. What is it about our history, theology, hymnody, and traditions that leads us to contribute something unique to the global conversation about Jesus Christ? Why do we exist as a people?
Only once we have answered these questions will we be able to address the issue of reengaging widely diverging congregations and generations.
P.S. You can read the full Facebook conversation here: