What makes the church attractive today?

Pentecost thoughts about the power of the Gospel
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1. What makes the church UNattractive today? Pentecost is the birthday of the church. However nowadays many people already start to bury the church here, in Europe. There are centuries old churches which became practically empty, priests make series of funerals instead of baptisms, there are many directionless congregations... I have collected some recently published reports in my essay. (If you would like to read about this more, please, read my Pentecost essay here.)

 

2. What do we, people think can make the church attractive today? A lot of solutions have been created to address the current problems of the European church. I quote some of them in my essay. All these are remarkably respectable points and suggestions. However the Essence of the European Church’s renewal is missing from them. What is this Essence? The third, closing part of my essay will write about this. (If you would like to read about this more, please, read my Pentecost essay here.)

 

3. What does make the church REALLY attractive today? What would like to see the young people in the church to attract them? They would like to see credibility. "Deep relationships are needed between the authentic adult servants and the youth." "Young people would like to have a relationship, an example and such a faith that means not only a Sunday morning program but can serve as a help in their challenging everyday life." (David Kinnaman) Credibility is not arisen from us. Credibility is an undistorted transmission of the Holy Spirit’s power through us. The church of Europe needs depth instead of wideness. (If you would like to read about this more, please, read my Pentecost essay here.)

 

 


 

 

Introduction. As I wrote in my first essay in September, I will go along a whole course of a spiritual retreat with my essays until summer. With the Christmas post we have arrived at the end of the first week of the four weeks’ long spiritual retreat: Christ may have been born within us, we may have been given places in the House of God and we may have realized that we were the Children of God. My four essays covering the second week of the spiritual retreat confronted us with our sins. Both our community sins and our own personal sins have been examined, we have thought about the conditions of our good choices, and we have answered the question what is the most important decision of our whole lives. Until the coming summer we will go along the second two weeks of the four weeks’ long spiritual retreat: praying throughout the whole earth life of Christ, our Lord.

-----------------we reached this point in our prayer--------------------------------------------------------

 


 

1. What makes the church UNattractive today?

 

Pentecost is the birthday of the church. However nowadays many people already start to bury the church here, in Europe. There are centuries old churches which became practically empty, priests make series of funerals instead of baptisms, there are many directionless congregations... (It has to be added that at the same time there are several church communities in Europe, which flourish. Moreover, in numerous continents like e.g. in Africa, India, China and Latin-America there is awakening and people in large numbers become Christians...) I have collected some recently published reports quoted below.

 

  • "The monotony, the lack of intellectual impulses, the almost complete absence of the ministers’ supervising network and the supervision, the condition of the church organization leads to burn-out very rapidly." (Csilla Gyöngyösi)
  • "Quite simply I would like to feel good about myself as a minister. It is not always so. When I take on the Lutheran cassock, it feels like this black Batman-suit would isolate me. Like it would close all valves and taps inside me. In civilian clothes I can be much more myself – and much more a minister, too." --- "I almost have to be pushy to make people believe that it is good for them. When they come and feel good they still do not become committed. The situation is the same on the financial level, too. They do not easily become committed maintainers of the congregation either. Like a manager, I always have to sell this issue. It is more and more frustrating." (three quotations from the collection of Éva Balogh – Credo 2019/1-2)
  • "Not infrequently, contrary to the promptings of the Spirit, the life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few. This can occur when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting. The Gospel then tends to be reduced and constricted, deprived of its simplicity, allure and savour. This may well be a subtle form of pelagianism, for it appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures. It can affect groups, movements and communities, and it explains why so often they begin with an intense life in the Spirit, only to end up fossilized… or corrupt.”  (Pope Francis, Gaudete et exultate, 58)

 


 

2. What do we, people think can make the church attractive today?

 

A lot of solutions have been created to address the current problems of the European church. I quote some of them below.

  • "Those congregations that do not turn their faces to the surrounding society will vanish within a couple of decades." (The answer of Szabolcs Szikszai to Csilla Gyöngyösi)
  • "How can the church speak in a comprehensible, modern language, how can it become a home and a family for today’s people?" -- "I think we should change the style of our church services. It should allow people to communicate and talk to each other. I would prefer to use a more informal liturgy, new songs that express the feelings of today’s people better. I would like the congregation to be a community in the true sense of the word, a kind of family." (From the collection of Éva Balogh – Credo 2019/1-2)
  • There should be services before and after the working hours, the youth should be allowed to get involved into the service, it should be allowed to take the opportunity to talk to the minister and to confess, the youth should have their own independent groups... (Hungarian catholic web-portal)

All these (and many hundred other initiatives like these) are remarkably respectable points and suggestions. However – out of their context, in themselves – the Essence of the European Church’s renewal is missing from them. What is this Essence? The third, closing part of my essay will write about this.

 


 

3. What does make the church REALLY attractive today?

 

"The Risen One is the Head of the church, the Holy Spirit is its power
and the Father holds it in his hand. Hallelujah! Amen"

(László Őrsy SJ, 97 years’ old Jesuit father)

 

Let me start with a personal story. I am a member of the Budapest-Angyalföld Lutheran congregation. Ten years ago only a handful of sisters and brothers had remained in this community. Today more than a hundred and fifty of us say and spread that this congregation is attractive. And this number is growing continuously...  We have recently had a survey in which we looked for the answer to the question why people find our community attractive. A lot of people mentioned that the congregation is "like a loving family". But even more people considered it the most important that the Gospel is preached in an undistorted purity in the Budapest-Angyalföld congregation. THAT IS THE POINT. Christ, the Power of the Gospel, the life-changing news of the Resurrection IS THE POINT. The Word of God is as powerful as ever today. The Holy Spirit is around us in Europe, too. Just like two thousand years ago. Feeling and radiating this love and joy is what makes the church attractive.

 

Let three quotations stand here about the essence of Pentecost. "Pentecost is the first of such Christ-events that is to be interpreted for the audience by one man. Moreover, a man filled with the Holy Spirit. And with this: the Christian preaching has been born." Apostle Peter "states that with Pentecost a new era has started. ... From now on anyone can receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit with no respect to their gender, age and the social status. ... Jesus himself is the acting person at pouring out the Holy Spirit." (Mária Adámi, in: Christian Truth, Hungarian quarterly) "The Old Testament talked about the Father clearly and started to show the Son obscurely; the New Testament pronounced the Son openly and started to show the godliness of the Holy Spirit. Now the Holy Spirit lives with us and manifests clearly for us." (Saint Gregory of Nazianzus) „In other words, amid the thicket of precepts and prescriptions, Jesus clears a way to seeing two faces, that of the Father and that of our brother. He does not give us two more formulas or two more commands. He gives us two faces, or better yet, one alone: the face of God reflected in so many other faces. For in every one of our brothers and sisters, especially the least, the most vulnerable, the defenseless and those in need, God’s very image is found. Indeed, with the scraps of this frail humanity, the Lord will shape his final work of art.” (Pope Francis, Gaudete et exultate, 61)

 

At last let the youth speak about how they would like to see the church that attracts them: We would like to see credibility. When the youth is the "target group", many people think in the European church now that less traditional liturgy but more "trendiness" is needed. Many young people think that this is simply false. "Deep relationships are needed between the authentic adult servants and the youth." "Young people would like to have a relationship, an example and such a faith that means not only a Sunday morning program but can serve as a help in their challenging everyday life." (David Kinnaman) Credibility is not arisen from us. Credibility is an undistorted transmission of the Holy Spirit’s power through us. The church of Europe needs depth instead of wideness.

 

 

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