Emerging churches siphoning off lapsed Catholics

Emerging churches siphoning off lapsed Catholics

In an article on the “emerging church” movement in Massachusetts, we see a curious reference back to Catholicism, and a notation of how many of these new “emerging church” members are lapsed Catholics. But first, what is the “emerging church.”

Mainly, it seems focused on worship as entertainment and free of most mentions of Christian doctrine and devotion. In some place, you’d find no difference from a nightclub act. One of the founders of the movement even claims that one doesn’t have to be a Christian in order to follow Christ. Here’s a sample:

The first difference you would notice between the 9 a.m. “first worship” at Wellesley Congregational Church and the traditional 10 a.m. service is location. People at the traditional service fill the pews in the sanctuary; the early-bird faithful migrate to the basement and sit facing one another in a U-shape of metal chairs.

Instead of the stentorian tones of the organ upstairs, a pianist leads first worship. Bursts of color banners bearing photos of parishioners on the walls light up a service that, unlike the traditional one, is notably mobile: People greet one another with a sign of peace, gather around the Communion table, and pantomime to song the Biblical story of the tax collector who climbed a sycamore to see Jesus .

The music is just as free-wheeling. “Feel free to sing harmony,” the cantor exhorts during one hymn. “It is totally allowed.”

Catholic-Lite: doctrine and self-sacrifice free

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
11 comments
  • Gee, that buncn in the basement sounds a lot like the teen mass down at St. Smithereens.

  • It’s just more ‘Name it & Claim it’ theology.  They make the rules up as they go along because it’s all about them anyway.  No body of Christ, just me.

    Funny story- I have a friend who is Baptist.  Her mother is Baptist.  Southern Baptist to be precise.  The 76 year old mother says she is born again.  She’s never been baptized because she doesn’t like the water thingy. 

    Custom cut religion is everywhere.

  • Miss Kelly:

    “we’re losing more and more Catholics to the latest fads, trends, and “ear-tickling.”
    Let ‘em go!  I prefer quality over quantity.

    That’s fine if we want a Church as pure and nice as us, but that’s not the Church that Christ founded. It’s a messy Church, and one that gets messier because He calls us to go out and bring all those people in, not throw them out.

    We have to be careful not to end up like the publican whose prayer was “Thank you, Lord, for not making me like that sinner of a tax collector over there.”

    When you get real frustrated at the inanities of people, it’s real tempting to think like that. I know because I do it all the time.

  • Dom, let me address this as a “new church” guy married to a Catholic, with 4 daughters who go to CCD.

    Let’s stipulate that all of the criticism above is true – which it is, as far as it goes.

    In our area, there are several dying “mainline” Protestant churches. There are two biggies (800+ members) – the local RC parish and the “new church”.

    We used to go as a family to the “new church”, until my oldest was old enough for CCD.

    Now, in the RC parish, they have all seven sacraments, real priests, mass every day, and all that stuff. What they don’t have is participation before and after mass in non-sacramental Christian stuff. People arrive late and leave early. Giving is insufficient to support the basal church functions. There are no youth programs (except CCD), no adult groups, no Bible study, no community service work, no support of missions other than indirectly (by giving to the diocese).

    The “new church” does have stupid music, casual worship (which to Catholics doesn’t feel like worship at all), etc, etc. But it also has an enormous outpouring of service and outreach. Literally every single member does SOMETHING besides go to Church on Sunday – serve widows, build houses, lead youth groups, go on mission, do Bible study, participate in adult learning groups. The people give money enough to build new buildings, support domestic and foreign missions, and many are tithers. Each Sunday School class actually “adopts” a missionary family, studies the church in the country their missionary represents, and hosts a visit by “their” missionary once a year.

    Now, I know very well that for real Catholics, this doesn’t “count” – no priest, no Church. I get that.

    But I wish all you could concentrate on praising what you DO have, and leave what we have alone. And if lots of Catholics are coming to the “new church” (and they are), look to what we do well and think about doing some of it yourselves.

  • Miss K, of course there’s no reason an RC parish can’t do the Xian stuff.

    But for Catholics of my acquaintance who come over, they’re looking for a more intense Christian experience, not for moral laxity.

    THOSE Catholics are either staying to subvert the Church from within, or becoming Episcopalians.

  • This sort of change makes sense in relation to the conventional mainline Protestant service, which as the pastor said, is worship from the neck up.  A typical Congregational or Baptist service consists of a series of talks and scripture readings, punctuated by a few songs. 

    When you banish the bodily elements of Catholic and Orthodox worship: the sacraments, incense, kneeling, gestures, processions, etc., what is left is very wordy and rationalistic, and a fair number of people find it unappealing.

  • Here in Milwaukee, we refer to the local mega-church as “Six Flags Over Jesus.”

    It’s a nice deal.  No sin, good entertainment.  What more could God offer?

  • Some very interesting reflections

    I found JimNoble’s observations fascinating and although we are approaching from very different angles not all that different than my own observations. Then throw in RC’s comments and it about rounds out my reflections. Let’s see if I can explain here.

    First, (and I believe this is related to Dom’s repeated emphasis as well) we Catholics have sacramentalized people without (or without much) evangelizing and catechizing.
    Just so we are on the same page-evangelizing is the proclamation of the Gospel leading to and calling for faith. It is one thing to ‘know’ things about God, Jesus, the Church etc, it is another to believe-to really come to a belief in God that is life-changing; to believe in Jesus Christ in a way that makes Jesus Christ the center of one’s whole life, family, work, world view; to come to realize and live His Passing Over from Death to Life in His death and resurrection-(which we first experience in Baptism and continue to ‘participate in’ in the Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass)which delivered us from sin and death and made us ‘children of God’ united with and participating in His own Triune Love and Life;to come to believe that the Holy Spirit is present andactive in the Church in a way that one comes to realize that this Community is really the Sacrament of Salvation for the world and without it-yes even with all its wrinkles and yes even sinners like you and me-I am homeless.

    A full catechesis follows upon this-slowly explaining and in a systematic way the triune
    Faith centered on the Paschal Mystery of Christ Our Lord.

    I had started saying we are sacramentalized-sacraments, Liturgy and ritual, most especially the Mass are central in our lives—-BUT many of us act as if that is all it means to be Catholic- or rather that these are disconnected from the rest of ourlives. If not founded on solid Catholic Christian faith, we will wander off and the Liturgy will mean little, perhaps merely a custom such as Christmas and Easter. If our lives, centered on Christ and the Eucharist are not connected first with a sense of community (vs simply ‘my family’)then we are living an anemic (at best) form of Catholicism. Catholicism has never been and never will be simply Jesus and me-no matter how much I might want it or think it should be. We are being prepared for eternal life in the communion of saints united with and in eternal contemplation and adoration of our Triune God!

    (I will end here so I don’t go over the limit-another part is coming)

  • Let’s be honest with ourselves here and ask ourselves some questions

    Do I prepare myself, even before arriving at the church, for what I am about to participate in? Do I pray that the Lord will open my eyes, and the eyes of my heart and mind to His Risen Presence in our midst most especially in the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament?

    Do I prepare myself to respond to His invitation and call to participate with my sisters and brothers in this Eucharist-and not despite them?

    Do I prepare myself for hearing His word? He desires to speak to His Church, His People in and through the readings. Do I ask the lord to open my ears, mind and heart so that “if today I hear His voice” I will not “harden not my heart” (Psalm 95)?

    Do I ask the Lord to anoint the priest or deacon who is preaching that the word might be broken open and our hearts might burn within us-or do I just tune out OR worse wait to criticize anything and everything I can-especially if he dares go over five minutes lol?

    Do I give of myself at the offertory? Yes, I mean my whole self-expressed in the ‘collection’ (do I really think a buck is an offering?) But more important do I offer my prayers, works joys and sufferings of the whole week with the bread and wine being   prepared?

    Do I enter into the great Todah (Read Cardinal Ratzinger’s(now Pope Benedict) teaching on the Liturgy) the great Thanksgiving of Our Lord Jesus Christ addressed to the Father and ‘containing’ within it His Sacrifice on te Cross expressed in the words of the Consecration-then in turn pray for the Church in all her dimensions?

    Is my focus on the Lamb Whose Banquet is being offered to me at Communion time-or worried about work, something at home, or what everyone else is doing be they priest, eucharistic minister or how they receive Holy Communion? I am being drawn into and united with the Mystery of the Risen Christ in this Real Food and Real Drink and in the process being united with the Father-am I aware of this? Am I aware that this is the “medicine of immortality and antidote to death” as Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote in 107 AD and the Panis Angelicus, Bread of ANgels Saint Thomas Aquinas described.

    Finally when we are sent forth at the end of Mass-is my first thought to look at my watch or to say thank God that is over or to recognize I am called to bring this Mystery to others-and to discover this Mystery in the community I see around me. Is there a disconnect between what I have just celebrated and my daily life? Do I realize I am called into community with all these others to witness to the world that God indeed is love and Jesus is Risen?

    (I could go on but will stop here for now)

  • Thanks to all who commented – I’m seriously considering becoming Catholic, I’m not putting it down at all.

    However, I love my “new church”, and I wanted to correct what I think is a common misconception shared by many here.

    “New church” people are not, for the most part, unserious. They’re serious about different things than Catholics who have been what Fr. Benedict refers to as “sacramentalized”. For those Catholics, the “worship” in a “new church” is, I understand, incomprehensible (and vice-versa).

    Most “new churchers”, including the increasing fraction who are baptized and confirmed Catholics, are serious – very serious – about their Christianity and are trying to get closer to Christ than they were before they joined.

    This is not Unitarianism, or the UCC, where the foundational doctrines of Christianity are rejected. It’s not the Episcopal Church, where dissident Catholics can get low-rent sacraments.

    If you think Catholics are going to “new churches” because they’re looking for an easier religion, I think you’re wrong.

    Going to mass just in time for the Gospel (if that), and walking down the aisle and out the door – that’s easy.

    Going to Church for two hours on Sunday, to small groups on Wednesday, to a work project on the weekend, and visiting sick people or widows after work – that’s not easy.

    Ninenot, I’m sure there are churches which deserve the sneer – but I’ve never seen one. That’s not why cradle Catholics are going elsewhere, at least not in my experience.

    Peace to all.

  • Dear JimNoble,

      I appreciate your incites concerning our wandering Catholic brothers and sisters as you see them in these “New churches”.

    I also do not want to misguide you with my previous post in any way. My observations about how Catholics approach our Catholic Eucharist and way of life is not a criticism in any way of our Eucharist or way of life, but of the approach of so many-I’m trying to find the words here that best describe it-perhaps anemic or lethargic closely describe what I am speaking about.

    The richness of our Tradition is all but indescribable yet it is approached, sadly by some laity and some clergy as if it were merely ‘ordinary’-this is what I mean by ‘sacramentalized’. They have received the sacraments and perhaps even frequent them-but for various reasons (some of which is lack of evangelization and solid catechesis) the Presence of Christ in the midst of the Church, of the assembled community, speaking through His word and celebrating the Eucharist Himself as our Priest (through the ministry of the ordained priest), feeding us with His Body and Blood and sending us forth on mission-is so often lost, overlooked or met with little attention. You see as I see it, each Eucharist should leave us the same way as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus-our hearts burning within us as He broke open the word for us, and our eyes opened as we come to recognize Him in the “Breaking of the Bread”.

    I also appreciate your insight concerning those attending the ‘new churches’ in their experience of community and responding to the ‘challenges’ of participating in the community’s life more than just on Sunday morning. I strongly believe that the Boomer Generation, Generation X and the Millenial generation desire more community and as Catholics we definitely need to respomd to this-because it IS what Vatican II was talking all about.

    Finally RC’s comment about Liturgy was insightful as well. I believe we need to return to the time of silence called for within the Liturgy (and there are many times it calls for it) Our worship, our Eucharist is after all a tremendous act of worship of the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord in the Holy Spirit. We need to be faithful to what the Liturgy IS. When we do people’s desire for worship mystery and community-for God-will be satisfied.

    Finally, let me share with you a text of Scripture I reflect upon every time I prepare to celebrate Mass:
    “You have drawn near to Mount Zion and the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to myriads of angels in festal gathering, to the assembly of the first-born enrolled in heaven, to God the judge of all, to the spirits of the just made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled Blood which speaks more eloquently than that of Abel”
    Hebrews 12.22-24

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