Will a Bay Area “church of the future” be radically different from today’s protestant churches? We believe congregations at successful organized religious institutions will be significantly younger and more ethnically and racially diverse than Bay Area churches of today. We expect the denomination of these churches will be less relevant to the choice of church as many in the community will not have had previous religious affiliation. We see this trend occurring today in the growth of non-denominational churches as the membership declines sharply in mainline protestant churches.
What will draw people to the “church of tomorrow” and what does this mean for St. Timothy’s? We should continue to focus on those strengths that have contributed to our success in the past, and will continue to appeal to prospective members in the future:
- A vibrant contemporary service that specifically caters to the spiritual and logistical needs of young families encourages participation. In many cases, the decision to return to or join a church comes when families are starting out and have a desire to provide spiritual development and community for their children. This continues to be an important demographic in the Silicon Valley and will likely continue to be one given the emphasis of youth in the high-tech culture.
- A great music ministry is imperative. This includes contemporary and traditional music, and services that encourage participation. The inclusion of parish members and youngsters in the music production links the congregation to the bands and each other. We hope all members will see music as a way of celebrating God’s grace and our multitude of blessings.
- An emphasis on intellectually stimulating preaching is important. This captures our attention and fosters spiritual growth through timely and personally meaningful sermons. We see Lay teaching from Godly Play to Bible study classes as crucial to the development of all our parishioners from the youngest to the oldest.
St. Timothy’s has a history of approaching church in an unconventional manner relative to a typical Episcopal Church. We were among the first churches in the area to welcome all worshippers to the communion table, regardless of religious affiliation or baptismal status. Earlier, we offered a 5:00 pm service that explored worship in ways that were accessible to those unfamiliar with the liturgy and creeds of the Episcopal Church. The service was relaxed, informal and accessible to newcomers. It served as an entry point for those who are unfamiliar with more traditional church services. It stopped when attendance fell off after resources were transferred to our 10:30am service. These above examples are indicative of our church’s willingness to try new approaches and ways of reaching out to the community and expanding our appeal beyond our traditional base, and our flexibility in changing course when we need to. In addition, our early recognition that Church needs to be multi-generational has been key to our appeal. We need to continue to serve the needs of all generations, young adults, couples without children, families with young children, and the generations of adults whose children have left home. Church needs to recognize and utilize the gifts of all generations to build God’s Kingdom.
In accepting the call to “share the good news”, St. Timothy’s must look at ways to capture the attention of a population that is increasingly secular and diverse, and places a premium on the achievements of science and technology. In this environment, we must position spiritual growth and a worship community as both a complement and an antidote to a culture that is too focused on achievement and material accumulation, and where technology can become as isolating as it is empowering.
We must also focus our attention on making faith “relevant” in a time and place where traditional views of God and Church are in transition. What does it mean to provide water in a spiritual desert in the 21st Century? How do we awaken people to the energizing and uplifting power of the Holy Spirit and the timeless teachings of Jesus, while providing support to go out and practice their faith in their homes, workplace and communities?
Finally, what does the Episcopal Church “brand” mean relative to the Church of the Future? In an environment where non-denominational churches are growing while mainline protestant churches are in decline, how do we highlight and capitalize on the breadth of our history and the “forward-thinking” our tradition encapsulates? Many people come back to church looking for answers; we spring from a tradition that is about helping people explore the most deeply personal questions and encouraging them to look deeper. We want St. Timothy’s to be a “spiritual center” for helping reveal answers to these timeless questions in an open and fun loving environment. Loving and praising God must become Joy in Action!