One afternoon, a few years ago, while my wonderful sister-in-law was visiting from the U.K., we were having lunch at a nice restaurant in St. Jacob’s. The waiter was very solicitous, and asked a number of questions to ensure that our dining experience was a pleasurable one. My sister-in-law was very polite but also somewhat bemused by all his questions: ‘Would you like brown bread or white? Would you like that toasted or plain? Would you prefer mayonnaise with that or mustard? Would you like the soup of the day or tomato juice? Would you like a garden salad, spinach or Caesar? Would you like French, Italian, Balsamic, Thousand Island, Blue Cheese or Caesar dressing on your salad?’ The waiter repeated the same litany of questions with my brother-in-law, my husband and me. After he left, my sister-in-law laughed and said she had never ever been given such an array of choices. On reflection, it did seem a bit over the top; but we all had a good laugh about it and enjoyed our meal together.
I thought about that experience in the restaurant as I was reading Reginald Bibby’s latest book, Resilient Gods. Being Pro-Religious, Low Religious, or No Religious in Canada. Bibby argues that the 1960’s, when the first wave of Boomers became of age, “brought with them a number of key cultural and social trends.” (p. 21) One of these trends had to do with “the legitimization of choice.” (p. 22) Whereas the past had been characterized by certain moral and religious absolutes, now there was flexibility and freedom. Now people could have different views (certainly different from their parents and grandparents) “on things like racial intermarriage, women being employed outside the home, [pre-marital sex], sexual orientation, family life and religion.” (p. 22)
Churches soon discovered that if they were not open to a certain amount of flexibility and freedom, then they could expect to decline. This is true of congregations that do not invite feedback or input from their members and adherents.
This is just one of the ways that the culture has changed since the Boomers began to make their presence felt back in the sixties. Congregations that want to grow may need to offer choices when it comes to style and time and place of worship and other activities or spiritual opportunities.
Now will that be French dressing on your salad or Creamy Garlic?