According to a recent survey, the percentage of U.S. congregations reporting high spiritual vitality declined from 43 percent in 2005 to 28 percent in 2010. Did those numbers sink in? That's a drop of 15 percentage points in five years.
The article linked above reporting this news also notes the unsurprising fact that, according to research, "spiritually alive churches are the most likely to grow." Even so, it appears that there has been a precipitous decline in spiritual vitality in churches of this country. Why?
I think one reason for this disturbing decline is that church folks are just too busy, and not necessarily with church work. Oh, there are some church folks who are certainly overworked in doing church work. But I fairly regularly have folks who do not hold many if any positions in the church who tell me that they are too busy to participate in events designed to promote spiritual vitality.
Because so many folks are time poor these days, here at Woodhaven Baptist, we just launched a non-event-based approach to encouraging spiritual vitality to supplement our event-based programs. In a nutshell, the new initiative involves pairing men and pairing women in the church who commit to gather once per week for prayer, fellowship and discussing a reading assignment. Each pair meets at a time and place of its choosing and decides on its own pace of reading. Furthermore, each person in each pair is encouraged to invite an unchurched friend, neighbor or co-worker to join the group. So each group is composed of a maximum of four men or four women, two of whom are church members and two of whom are not.
It is the most flexible plan for relationship building, communal prayer, and outreach that I can imagine. We will continue to hold various church events designed to foster greater spiritual vitality. But it is just getting harder and harder to find times for church events that many folks can attend beyond Sunday morning (and even Sunday morning is not as easy as it used to be it seems).
Will our new non-event-based approach to promoting spiritual vitality help in a time poor culture? We just launched the plan yesterday, so that remains to be seen. But if many folks say they are too busy even for a plan so flexible, then I see only one alternative: Encourage our people to simplify.
We should probably encourage simplification anyway.