With a second week of school nearly complete, many extra-curriculars are starting up. I had the privilege of sitting around a table in the atrium at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) with some other dance parents for a couple hours.
Dance parents are like hockey parents, many spend hours sitting outside of dance studios like hockey parents sit in cold arenas.
I couldn’t help but wonder what was so compelling about dance that these families would bring their kids one to seven (SEVEN!!!) days a week for dance classes for 10 months of the year. Few kids will become professional dancers, maybe some will become dance teachers, but most will dance for as long as they can and eventually move on with life.
The next morning as I met with clergy colleagues over zoom, the discussion landed on declining volunteer capacity in congregations. Many were lamenting that most churches cannot find committee members, folks for worship roles, coffee makers, and so on.
As my colleagues talked about church, I couldn’t help but wonder what kept people coming back to the RWB week after week (day after day!) and what the church could learn from it. To be clear, the RWB recreational division has suffered a massive decline in enrolment during the pandemic and they have been very open about that. The other dance parents remarked that none of their kids’ classes were full, which was a rare occurrence pre-pandemic. It isn’t just churches that are seeing fewer folks being involved, it is allcommunity institutions: sports, arts, service clubs, etc.…
On top of that Canadians are getting older. 50% of us are over the age of 50. That means that for every family of four like mine, there are two empty-nest couples out there.
But still, I couldn’t help but wonder what kept folks coming back to dance. I don’t know the answer (if I did, I would get rich selling books!).
I do have thoughts though:
- Is it the relative ease in ascertaining the benefit of dance and hockey and piano? Sure; but most kids won’t dance on Broadway, play in the NHL or perform at Carnegie.
- Is it that there is a value associated with these activities? Should churches have annual fees? (Just kidding of course!)
- Is it that church has no aging-out process and that adults participate as much as the kids? Most dance, hockey and piano parents don’t actually do the thing they are dragging their kids to. Or did all the kids who attended Sunday School over the past decades “age out” of church, like they did sports, music, dance and scouts?
- Could it be that Christians have behaved badly lately: cozying up to power, condemning more than offering love, cutting people off more than reaching out? Almost certainly this is a big piece.
- But also could it be that the free gift of God’s grace, the regular pondering of meaning and purpose in life, and the radical welcome given to imperfect sinners is a little deeper than most folks want to go on a regular basis? I also think this is something significant.
- Lastly, might it be that churches and church leaders have for a long time assumed that people inherently understood why being part of a church is a good thing? Dance, hockey and all the other extra curriculars regularly “evangelize,” promote and recruit, while citing the benefits of participating. Have we forgotten how to do that? I suspect this might be the biggest piece.
No doubt, when people aren’t working and taking care of families and households, how people spend their precious leisure time has dramatically changed what people are willing to participate in. And we have not even begun to sort out this pandemic world and its realities.
Still, in the days, weeks, months and years to come, a lot of what we will be called to do is to let go of the idea that people *should* come to church (because they should know better), and begin to articulate again why following Jesus is a life changing thing for us.
The whole world is still in the midst of this pandemic reset. As we all slowly rebuild and refashion our lives and what we invest our precious time and energy in, God is calling the church to proclaim again the Good News AND why it matters to us and why it should matter to our neighbour.
As difficult and scary as this task sounds, it is also exciting. God has big things in mind for us.