Marcus Borg has added some personal reflections to his most recent book on Jesus. He includes the following:
“..what is happening within some mainline congregations is a movement from convention to intention as the animating motive for being part of a church. It is something relatively new in Western Christianity. For centuries, and in the United States until a few decades ago, there was a conventional expectation that everybody would be a member of a church… So long as this cultural expectation remained in place, mainline denominations did well numerically; they provided a perfectly respectable and safe way of being Christian. Nobody would ask you to do anything too weird. This expectation no longer exists in most parts of the United Sates, and as a result membership in mainline denominations has declined sharply over the past forty years. The ‘good news’ in this decline is that, very soon, the only people left in mainline congregations will be the ones who are there for intentional and not conventional reasons. This creates the possibility for the church once again to become an alternative community rather than a conventional community, living into a deepening relationship with a Lord other than the lords of culture. This is exciting.” (Marcus Borg, Jesus (Harper, 2006) p.302-303)
I share it because it can serve as a kind of short hand for what I mean when I write of Christendom coming to an end. I think what is going on certainly requires that we be intentional, but need to do more work on what it is that we are intending. Some congregations are very intentional about growing themselves in all kinds of ways and for all kinds of reasons. The danger of this kind of intention is that it risks objectifying people who become ‘targets’ for membership. They are of interest as long as they are potential ‘pledging units’ who can help grow the church. Borg talks rather about being intentionally an ‘alternative community’. What might that look like?