As we watch the news coming out of the Vatican, and the anointment of a major religious leader, we return to the question of why so many churches are in decline — and who could successfully lead their 21st-century resurgence. Are the young falling away because they can’t relate to leaders from prior generations? Could more flexible leaders convince those who are leaving to come back? Should we blame out-of-date beliefs that leave clergy with flimsy answers to today’s questions?
Flexibility is not the problem. Many churches have bent over backwards to be flexible. They have gone so far as to remodel their churches as figurative cafeterias, where the menus list beliefs and practices rather than soups or sandwiches. You can put “honesty” on your tray, some Sabbath-light church attendance (only Christmas and Easter), the package of promiscuous sex before marriage and fidelity afterwards, and so on. When you get to the end of the line, just show the clerk what’s on your tray and ask, “Can you guide me to a church that will allow me to believe want I want to believe, and do what I want to do?”