Many Shopping for a Church to Find a Sense of Belonging

By Esther Talbot Fenning St. Charles Post Special Correspondent | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 4, 1994 | Go to article overview

Many Shopping for a Church to Find a Sense of Belonging


Esther Talbot Fenning St. Charles Post Special Correspondent, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Lisa and Jerry Donaubauer are typical of a new generation of church goers - those between the ages of 30 and 45 who feel no compunction to stay with the denomination of their parents and grandparents.

The Donaubauer's and their contemporaries shop for churches that will address their individual needs and those of their children.

The Donaubauers were raised Catholic. Lisa, 27, was a single teen-age mother who said she was ostracized by the church. Jerry, 40, a police officer, thought of himself as a Christian rather than a Catholic.

After 10 years of religious alienation, the Donaubauers said something was missing in their lives. In addition, they wanted a positive spiritual experience for their children, ages 8 and 4.

"We wanted a church that was warm, hospitable and non-judgmental - one that had guidelines but not restrictions and one that had a good religion education program," Lisa Donaubauer said.

Two years ago, the Donaubauers joined First United Methodist Church on First Capitol Drive in St. Charles. Lisa Donaubauer, a loan officer and part-time college student, helps in the Sunday School and is a member of the handbell choir.

Jerry Donaubauer, whose rich baritone voice was a surprise to his wife, joined the choir and plays on the church softball team.

"Belonging to the church community has helped my husband's morale and our relationship. And we've gone out together more since we joined the church than we ever have," Lisa Donaubauer added.

Area pastors confirm that baby boomers are looking for churches that make religion relevant to their lives. They want education programs for their children and a church that acts as an extended family.

To meet those needs, First United Methodist - like many area churches - has boosted its family ministries program. The church conducts as many as seven membership orientation meetings a year, has modernized the music department and added employees to coordinate activities.

The Rev. Wilma Ewing, associate pastor of First United Methodist, said prospective members carry check lists from church to church until they find one that meets their criteria.

"At the top of most lists is giving their children the spiritual direction and sense of religious education that for one reason or another they missed," Ewing said.

Alan Meyers, assistant professor of religion at Lindenwood College, said the modern church philosophy is reminiscent of a 19th century American church recruitment effort called the Institutional Church Movement.

"This was the idea that church buildings were left idle too much, and if they wanted to attract new members - especially to city churches - you had to have all kinds of concerts, sporting events, organizations and clubs for children," Meyers said.

He added that the movement didn't last because it was costly, didn't attract members, and put stress on pastors who were forced to become community service directors. …

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