As a people perpetually worried about our people, we like to conduct any number of surveys to find out why our people choose to either join or not join congregations. When those surveyed list reasons as to why the do not join the two most common denominators are issues of spirituality and relevancy.
Though I have struggled and continue to struggle with what the term 'spirituality' means, I find myself now wrestling more and more with the concept of relevancy. According to Webster, the term relevance means, "1. a. relation to the matter at hand, b. practical and especially social applicability 2: the ability (as of an information retrieval system) to retrieve material that satisfies the needs of the user." (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary).
With this concept in mind, I assume those who say congregations are not relevant or not relevant enough are implying that the experience is not practical and/or socially applicable. Again, I am making an assumption, but if this is correct, then the argument is that the experience at a congregation has little or no applicability to one's life, therefore it is not relevant.
Then there are those of us who work in the religious world who argue that congregations are more relevant and more necessary now than ever. In today's overwhelming world where we feel less and less human connection and a greater sense of self versus the needs of the community, a strong religious tradition is very much relevant.
So where is the breakdown? I think fundamentalism has played a very strong role. Absolutism in a more tolerant society has had a significant impact. The ability of some to use religion to become closed-minded to all the possibilities of God's creation certainly is a possible reason as well.
But I think most importantly, to paraphrase one of our country's presidents, we no longer ask what we can do for our religion, we ask, what can our religion do for us?
So I would encourage those of you out there who say that you religion, your congregation (or your former religion or congregation), are not relevant? Try to figure out what you mean by relevant. Let us know. And you might just find in our answers that we are a lot more relevant than you have given us credit for in the past.
Yes religion does have the capability to divide us, but it also has the amazing ability to bring us together. It is all about how you engage that makes us relevant. Not, I would argue, the other way around.