Boredom driving the flock away
Paragraphs from an article under that title in The Age, July 2, 2002
Boredom may be the biggest threat to the future of Christianity as its popularity continues to dwindle.
Dull and dissatisfying church services are being blamed for driving people away, rather than Christianity’s fundamental doctrines or moral teachings.
A survey of 8500 Australians shows that more than 67 per cent still call themselves Christians. But fewer than 20 per cent of those interviewed for the National Church Life poll see regular church-going as necessary for identification with the Christian religion. Boredom, listed by 42 per cent of respondents, appears to be the main culprit.
Survey researcher John Bellamy said that while there was no single reason to explain low church attendance, the survey pointed to a need for more innovative forms of church life.
perceived increased pace of life, longer working hours and competing leisure
activities played a surprisingly minor role in people’s decisions to
avoid church, according to the survey. Only 21 per cent of respondents said
they were too busy to attend Sunday service or
More people, 24 per cent, said they stayed away because they disagreed with the way church organisations operated. A further 16 per cent listed “personal bad experiences of church people or ministers” for their absence, a category which presumably includes anything from a falling-out with a fellow parishioner to instances of sex abuse by clergy.
The Problem of Boredom
We in the church, priests and people, have a problem with homilies and we still don’t know how to fix it. Many people find homilies boring; it seems that few people learn anything new from the homilies they hear. At most, homilies might encourage some people to persevere in the faith, despite the many contrary pressures in society.
What can be done? Perhaps develop an expectation in priests and people that normally a homily will not exceed five minutes in duration. (When it is a matter of listening to a single person speaking, in today’s culture most people’s attention span would be less than five minutes!)
We can try to find ways of involving many people in a sharing of reflections. Such sharing would require an introduction, facilitated discipline and a conclusion with some kind of consensus about what God is calling us to think and do.
For example, the following paragraphs are taken from the suggestions I had offered on my website - www.giant.net.au/users/murphy/ for reflection after the gospel for the Liturgy of the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 7.
The general tone of the gospel is one of encouragement and support for the weakest and those in most need. Perhaps the yoke metaphor – the word is used twice in the gospel reading – should be understood in this context. Therefore, not as implying a burden or slavery, or control, but as a linking with Jesus who can guide us to a better life.
Even in rural areas, few people these days would be familiar with the way horses or bullocks can be yoked in pairs to form a working team. Nevertheless, it is not too difficult for people to understand the yoking system. Some members of the congregation might have more knowledge of it than others. Encourage them to describe it to all those present so that everyone can appreciate the image.
Mention that it is reasonable to understand today’s gospel passage in these terms – in the light of this image of yoking. It is as if Jesus is inviting us to live in harmony with him, to walk “in harness” with him, in tandem with him, in a team with him, to benefit from his presence at our side. And Jesus is saying that it will not be too difficult, because his yoke is easy and light. For us it is an honour and a blessing to work in a team with Jesus Christ.
The congregation, including the children, might be prepared to continue suggesting applications of the yoke metaphor to describe their relationship with Jesus and the work that is to be done.
Another question might be: Who is Jesus inviting to be members of his team? The humbled, the marginalised, children, aboriginal people?