their souls nourished and their religious lives sustained. We must be careful in studying the unaffiliated, in reaching out to them, and in dedicating volumes to them that we not forget the affiliated, what they bring to the religious congregation, and what they need to receive from it.
Despite the complexity of the topic and the multiform routes to its exploration and implementation, affiliation is a valued act, and the congregations to which people attach themselves are unique and remarkably enduring institutions. It is often said that religious community is central to a life of faith. Indeed, Judaism requires the minimum of a minyan, ten Jews above the age of thirteen, for congregational worship, public Torah reading, and the recitation of Kedusah (prayers praising the holiness of God). The tradition thus mandates prayer as a communal act, undertaken by the community on behalf of the community. Without a minyan, there can be no wedding, no prayers for the deceased, no confession of sins. The congregation is vital for carrying out the tasks of the religion.
The responsibility for meeting the challenges posed by membership declines and high rates of unaffiliation rests with the religious institutions. A society that craves communal and personal intimacy, moral and ethical guidance, and spiritual fulfillment cannot afford to have any less than the most innovative and creative congregations. Mead's words on the importance of congregations and our need to understand congregational affiliation (Chapter 2) set the tone for this volume as a whole.
The congregation is one of the few places in society in which we as individuals can come together, restore our wholeness, recover our sense of direction, receive the power to do what we must do, and be assured of the community with God and with one another that makes life worth living. The congregation is the arena for the restoration of life and mission. That arena itself needs repair and restoration very critically at this moment in history. Those who care about the quality of life in our society need to care about the health of religious congregations and their ability to grow--not just in numbers, but also in faith, ministry, and mission.
No other institution has shown the ability to affect so positively not only the lives of individuals but our society and culture as well. But religious congregations must grow in many ways if they are to meet their greatest potential in the next century and be the place where people can fulfill their deepest needs.
Aid Association for Lutherans. ( 1992). Findings Report at Completion of Phase I for the Church Membership Initiative. Appleton, WI: Author.