After seeing a staggering overall Christian church attendance decline, a Clay County minister is asking area residents, "What is the community's biggest need?"
First Baptist Church Reverend Mark Thompson attended a seminar to discuss the future of American Christianity.
While there, he learned that in 1958 approximately 80 percent of 178 million Americans attended church at least twice a month.
Today, only 17.6 percent of 309 million Americans attend church at the same interval.
"Church decline started in 1946 after the Great Depression when people could no longer rely on churches and had to turn the government for financial assistance," Thompson said. "It used to be that most churches operated like Amish communities, where each family could help support one another. But when everyone was broke, no one could help their neighbor."
In response to learning this information, Thompson is applying for a grant from the American Baptist Foundation in order to make his church more relevant and open to the current community.
"We want our church to become the third place," Thompson said.
The minister further explained the first place is one's home, where a person can be loved and accepted by everyone there.
The second place is one's workplace. A person doesn't have to like everyone there, but the person tries to tolerate his or her co-workers to get the job done.
"Starbucks is trying to become the third place, where everyone knows your name and goes to hang out, kind of like 'Cheers.' The third place used to be the church, and we want that to be the case again," Thompson said.
Thompson plans to make this happen by using the grant money the church may receive to help provide for the community's greatest need.
The pastor wants to encourage community members to email him with suggestions as to what that need is. Thompson said he doesn't want people to send him personal needs that only affect a small amount of citizens, but does want to know how to benefit the entire community.
"The good church people used to congregate at the church, but now it's like they've just let the community rot and they are in two separate worlds. Now we have baseball coaches killing each other. We need to change that," Thompson said.
In addition to his quest to help the community, Thompson is also reaching out and trying to bring folks into the church from all walks of life.
Thompson's "Choose the Rock" service at 7 p.m. Thursday evenings at 413 S. Walnut Street. This service is different than a usual church service.
It only lasts 50 minutes, and collecting the offering doesn't just involve parishioners giving.
"We have an open offering plate. If you have a need in your life, you are welcome to take some money. Nobody is watching it," Thompson explained.
According to the American Baptist Home Missions Society, this grant will be used to "enhance ministries of discipleship."
The grants are memorials in the names of Virginia and Gordon Palmer Jr., two American Baptists who made a difference.
Virginia was a speech pathologist and educator from a low-income family who helped develop a speech and hearing clinic at Temple University. Gordon was and electrical engineer who founded an electronics component company and was the son of an American Baptist pastor.
"People don't support institutions, but they will support a cause," Thompson said. "They will support the cause of VBS (Vacation Bible School), but not a church itself."
The church could received anywhere for $5,000-$25,000, and applications are due June 1, but money will not be awarded until Fall 2011.
Thompson hopes doing something for the community will lead people to come back to church and make church a relevant place to be again and create a better future.
The seminar projected statistics regarding church attendance in 15 years, and officials expect it to drop 5-10 percent from where it is now.
To make suggestions about the community's need, email Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.