“Food for thought”

“Churches, like any large voluntary organization, have at their core a contradiction. In order to attract newcomers, they must have low barriers to entry. They must be unintimidating, friendly, and compatible with the culture they are a part of. In order to retain their membership, however, they need to have an identity distinct from that culture. They need to give their followers a sense of community—and community, exclusivity, a distinct identity are all, inevitably, casualties of growth. As an economist would say, the bigger an organization becomes, the greater a free-rider problem it has. If I go to a church with five hundred members, in a magnificent cathedral, with spectacular services and music, why should I volunteer or donate any substantial share of my money? What kind of peer pressure is there in a congregation that large? If the barriers to entry become too low—and the ties among members become increasingly tenuous—then a church as it grows bigger becomes weaker.”

[excerpt from Malcom Galdwell, “The Cellular Church: Letter from Saddleback” The New Yorker, September 5, 2005]




2 Comments. Leave new

Like faith, contributing to and believing in your church is a choice. If we belong to a parish that has a “magnificent cathedral, with spectacular services and music,” then I would personally be inspired by that aesthetic; I’d want to be a part of that beauty. We can choose to maintain what we love and become involved, or stay inactive and hope that the quality remains.

If the church was small, and room for improvement is obvious, then the parishioner has the opportunity to be a part of that beautification process, a catalyst of change. One may come to this choice faster than another person at a large, beautiful church. I think of the old phrase “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” and that’s the motto people at the large church may live by.

Bottom line, regardless of the church’s size and beauty, it’s each individual parishioner’s duty to give to their church. At one point the individual made a choice. That person decided to confirm their status within the church, to become a parishioner instead of a visitor. This choice brings responsibility. It means that we, as parishioners, choose to give our time, talent and money.

Like any relationship there’s a honeymoon stage. There’s excitement, mystery, hope and elation until we figure the other person out and the relationship becomes commonplace. The amazing thing is, when it comes to our relationship with Christ and His Church, the honeymoon stage should be the only stage! Imagine: A never-ending honeymoon fueled by reciprocated, unconditional love!

Regardless of the size of the church, or its amenities, we need to approach our involvement with the passion, exuberance and willingness of a new parishioner. We need to fully realize the love we’ve been given, and combine that with the intellect and gifts we’ve been blessed with in service to our church. Help your fellow parishioner by being an example. Help them realize Christ’s love.

This is entirely true in many senses. However, Protestant communities (like saddleback) have very low barriers to community entry. Without some mortification involved in the entry process, there is not much that holds a once-professed member of the community in permanent ties with the community.

What the Catholic Church has as an advantage is a significantly higher barrier to full communion. Closed communion practiced at every Mass hopefully pricks the heart of the casual observer into longing for inclusivity and belonging. While this may repulse some, those who have received the grace to accept it long for the life of Jesus in the Eucharist which cannot yet be theirs. Thus, the higher requirement for entry (RCIA, full submission to the local bishop and bishop of Rome, etc) hopefully affords the Catholic Church a higher sense of permanence and communal identity.