Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On being the Church in the None Zone

I received a great question in the comment section yesterday, and I thought it deserved a wider audience, so I didn't want to bury it in the comment section:

So what do you see as the strength of being a congregation located in the infamous "None Zone?"

It's interesting to be able to answer this question and actually be living here. For over 5 years I have talked about "The None Zone (the specific terminology)" from afar, even though I am a native Washingtonian. I have thought about the differences I noticed between the Church I observed in the Midwest through the lens of my experience in the Pacific Northwest, beginning with my college experience at (then) Mankato State University in 1991.

From the literature I have read (any value judgments put aside), I see that in the Pacific Northwest, we live in an "open religious market (this term is taken from the None Zone book) ." In short, in this open relgious market, no religious perspective, brand, faith tradition, etc., has a significant hold on the culture in the Pacific Northwest. Is religion important to people in the Pacific Northwest? It can be. But one can't say that a particular tradition holds sway on public discourse or culture, like Baptists in the South or Roman Catholics in the Northeast, or Lutherans in the Northern Great Plains.

In my sermon when I was preaching at FLCC in June, I talked about response to the open religious market. Lutherans and other Mainline Protestant traditions (Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, etc.) tend to look at this situation with complaints or judgment (from a study by James Wellman at the University of Washington). I can understand the perspective, especially since Lutherans raised in the Midwest have had the wider culture supporting their religious efforts.

I think being the Church in the Pacific Northwest is a great opportunity. Though we don't have the social supports as in other places, we can also try new things. FLCC has already been a leader in trying new methods of sharing the Gospel. We don't have the opportunity to take the message of God's grace in Jesus for granted as in other places. We have to be intentional about what the community of faith does in the world. I think it's also a great advantage that people ask questions and refuse to be spoon fed congregational life and culture without coming to know the life of faith. I don't believe that faith and culture should be so easily intertwined as I have experienced in the Midwest.

This is probably enough to chew on for today. In short (again), I believe we live as Christians in the midst of a great opportunity in the Pacific Northwest open religious market.

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