Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Church as Insurance

Did I tell you I am loving Robert Wuthnow's book "After the Baby Boomers?" Each chapter has these "aha!" moments when it now makes sense to me what I am experiencing in culture. In chapter 7 "Faith and the Family" he extensively charts the orgainzation dis-involvement of 21-45 year olds on many levels. He notes how some church shop and others church hop, feeling no localparish loyalty, but float from church to church usually in the company of friends.
But then he writies "judging from how seldom they attend services, one might assume that congregations are completely irrelevant to a majority of young adults. However, congregations have always served as a form of social insurance, and that function is sitll important to how young adults thing about congregations."
That makes so much sense. I have a relationship with my insurance agent in town with State Farm. I pay my premiums, but do not drop by his office until I have a car accident or need his help. Insurance is my safety net but not gathering place. For some of the young adults I know, who grew up in the congregations I've served, who have parents and/or grandparents in the current congregation, they view the local church as their entitled, paid-up insurance policy for wedings, baptisms, funerals, social functions that need a room rental and reference forms. They sincerely call this church "their home church" but seldom attend it during a calendar year except on family-gathering holidays. If there is a medical emergency they will call me and we will be there. If they are unemployed and going through a crisis, they will ask to meet with one of the pastors and even ask for financial help, though never think to attend and participate in worship.
Social insurance carries with it a sense of ownership and entitlement, but no sense of commitment.


At 3:06 PM , Blogger Beth B said...

Interesting post, Donn.

I think churches do function as a means of providing social insurance. The problem occurs when that is taken to be (or offered) as its only function.

I wonder what the connection is between this generation's lack of commitment and their parent's generation's lack of commitment.

That is, how do you practice commitment when your mom and dad aren't practicing commitment to one another in their marriage?

How do you understand what commitment is when the company your parent has loyally worked for "downsizes" and leaves her in the dust, and you to watch her weep?

How do you possibly become a person of commitment when you grow up in a throw-away consumer culture that preaches the gospel, "newer, and different is better?"

How do you teach commitment when you repeatedly witness how amusement trumps effort, and image trumps character?

How do you live out commitment when those you have given your life for reject you?

It is at those points that the function of the church can be seen to be more than just providing social insurance.

At 4:37 PM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Beth, you are so on-target here. We learn generationally both positive and negative. I think it would be a larger discussion to examine what has happened culturally with issues of community loyalty to consumer mentality. When we moved off the small farm and towns into large cities, from small owner shops to franchized super-stores, it affected a lot of our values. When we see parents bail on vows and churches melt-down into cat-fights it makes a huge impact on the next generation. My blog at the top right now goes to the whole notion of rebuilding broken places and persons.
I think this generation must re-examine some of these cultural values and exchange them for more biblical ones. One set of skills that is necessary is to get re-acquainted with the biblical story and start from there. Thanks for your comments!


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