Filling empty church pews can be achieved through partnerships, leadership development and delivering a message that is more relevant to a technology driven generation, a panel of college presidents and church leaders said during the 2013 Granville Hicks Leadership Academy for Laity and Clergy at Claflin University Feb. 1.
“We have to reach the community that can reach the people we don’t see – the people we don’t know,” said Rev. Jonathan Holston, the bishop of the South Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
The Granville Hicks Leadership Academy has been held annually at Claflin for the past 21 years with the aim of bringing the state’s church leadership together to discuss critical issues impacting the church. This year’s theme was “Relevancy in a Changing World.”
Claflin President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale added that addressing relevancy must start with ideas to enhance sustainability. “We know that change just happens. Our students and education change over time. We must adapt the mantra that change is the norm,” said Tisdale. “How do we respond to that change? We develop partnerships to strengthen the bond between education and the church.”
Tisdale said that leadership development is critical. He called for pastors to serve as role models for student leaders on college campuses. Claflin’s eighth president also discussed the emphasis the campus places on religion and its strong connection with local churches.
Gammon Theological Seminary President Rev. Dr. Albert Mosley said reaching the younger generation will require a focus not only on content but on the actual delivery of the church’s message.
“I am absolutely convinced that a lot of what we value as a church will simply not reach that large group of young people sitting in the back of the pews,” said Mosley. “This is a generation of seekers that are thinking about critical issues. Churches must move away from the prepackaged clichés. We must position ourselves so we don’t lose this generation.”
A pastor for four decades, Johns Island Parish Senior Pastor Rev. Angelin J. Simmons, pointed out the church and world has indeed changed dramatically in that time.
“I notice some people don’t say ‘Amen’ in churches today anymore. They say that’s Tweetable,” said Simmons. She also called upon the lay people in the church to take a more active role in ministry, lamenting that many churches today are too pastor dependent.
Columbia College President Elizabeth Dinndorf echoed the need for partnerships between higher education and the church, citing the recent success of a diabetes prevention campaign her institution conducted with area churches. “We need to sell the benefit of education and design specific programs to help the church,” said Dinndorf.
Holston concurred in saying, “the academy can help get to the people we need to reach and address significant issues of the people.”