LIMA — Think of it as more bang for the buck.
Churchgoers today want a richer experience than sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, area pastors said Friday, taking the region’s spirituality pulse this Easter weekend.
“People have so little time. They’re very choosy about how they use that time,” said the Rev. Charlotte Hefner, pastor at the Bath campus of Community United Methodist Church. “They become excited when they can see their faith at work instead of just being talked about. We try to do things whole families can come together and do. The young and old have a lot to teach us, and each other.”
Hefner said she and her husband came to Lima in 1992 because of a philosophy that began with the former Shawnee United Methodist Church, now the Shawnee campus of Community UMC.
“It was about a handout. Not a giveaway, but an extended hand, to give away whatever we had so that others might know Christ,” Hefner said. “We keep sharing that love wherever we go and just wanting people to come along.”
The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.
In the past five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15 percent to just under 20 percent of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6 percent of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people (14 percent) who say they have no particular religious affiliation.
Those who do find their way to a church often do so because of their children, said the Rev. Justin Musto, senior pastor at Gardendale Church of God.
For a decade, Musto served as the church’s youth pastor. That means he’s seen children turn to young adults. And he's seen teenagers leave the church as young adults and return as parents, Musto said.
“People were raised in the church, but then they back away from it. As they have children, they want that foundation back that they had growing up,” Musto said.
Young families want what many people want from a church, Musto said.
“People are looking for a place to belong; they want to feel part of a family, part of a movement. They want to feel like their life matters, that there is purpose for them,” Musto said. “We want to be inviting. We just want people to know we care.”
Lima Community Church has seen phenomenal growth in membership as well as the physical campus on North Cole Street. The Rev. Lindsey Bush, elementary pastor, said ministry opportunities for and by youth have been a large part of that growth.
Junior high and high school youth have opportunities to serve in preschool and children’s ministry.
“They act as role models and have fun serving. That’s been a cool thing to see,” Bush said. “They take ownership of their faith. They don’t just sit and take it all in. Jesus calls us to do.”
Having a robust children’s ministry helps attract families, Bush said, and it provides people opportunities to serve.
“Building a family ministry makes a difference. We teach the truth of the Bible and have a lot of fun. We want it to be the best hour of their week. It does grow attendance and participation,” Bush said. “It’s neat to see volunteers work together and encourage each other. They almost become a small church themselves.”
At the Bath campus, Hefner said, no one gets hung up on what someone is wearing Sunday or what condition their life is in when they decide to seek God.
“We’re seeing a lot of broken people finding their way here. You’re accepted as you are, where you are in your life. We’re all in progress,” Hefner said. “I’ve seen people come from addiction. I’ve seen people have tangible needs, like hunger, met. I’ve seen people for the first time in their lives have healthy relationships and reconcile, people who have been forgiven and want to forgive. They’re the ones who want to then reach out to others. They can’t wait to tell others. They’re so close to where a need was that they want to be generous and share.”