The church is dying. Read any article on the challenges of church growth or the rise of the religious “nones,” or even attend a pastors conference, and this trend of decline, especially across the mainline church, is clear to anybody paying attention.
Listen to these prognosticators and it might lead one to believe that this is the worst time to take the helm of one of the most prominent mainline churches in the country. So many have asked me why I chose to become senior minister at The Riverside Church: Was it prominence, promotion, prestige? No. I’m here because I see another story unfolding, and I so desperately want to be part of a hopeful conversation, imagining a future we can’t yet see.
The Riverside Church, located on the edge of Harlem in New York City, has a long and impressive story of intertwining progressive Christianity with social justice, human rights, current events and the community that surrounds us.
Influential voices from the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, and countless others have spoken from this pulpit. For decades, when The Riverside Church spoke to the great challenges and obstacles facing our country, people listened and responded to calls for justice, for unity, for peace, and for living out the radical call of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, love for God and love for neighbor, in our world.
But the world around us is changing, and the church is no longer automatically the center of our communities, its leaders no longer the voices we turn to for guidance or truth. Many in my world are dismayed and disheartened by this obvious decline; I see it rather as an exciting time of opportunity! The church will not die because people need community, and because all of us long for a place to ask deep and hard questions about our lives.