In a recent study done by the Pew Research Center, “the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing rapidly. Statistics show an increase of 6.7% from 16.1% to 22.8% between 2007 and 2014 in this category.”  This might not be surprising news for many; however the speed to which this statistic continues to move should cause us to sit up and take notice.
As a church, how do we respond? There are many answers to that question; but as a person called to share the message of Jesus Christ I have always understood that message to be one of invitation to follow Jesus on a faith journey of love and discovery.
We are all sojourners in faith. Some of us have a clear understanding of faith in Christ; but if I’m honest, even with all of my years as a follower, I am discovering things about my faith journey that are clearly different from the first day I began this sojourn. The best thing is that Jesus has never turned any of my questions or struggles or sometimes stumbles along the way into a reason to disqualify me as a disciple. And that’s exactly why I am passionate about and the mission of StartingPoint:Philly.
StartingPoint:Philly is a new community of faith that seeks to walk alongside people who are starting their journey at whatever stage they find themselves. Believer, non-believer, atheist, spiritual but not religious, unchurched, de-churched, or re-churched–they are all welcome to join our conversation about faith and life.
We primarily focus on millenials, but the truth is, real community has no age limits. We are strongly committed to what we call “creating third places” for people to build new relationships across many boundaries in real ways. That means real conversations about racism and intercultural relationships, sexism, LGBTQ inclusion, immigration, poverty, and many other social realities that intersect with our lives and our faith.
So, at StartingPoint we meet people where they are. We gather at a park, at a pub, at a coffee shop, at a public demonstration or march — anywhere people come together to talk about life and faith and love. That’s where we share the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that invite people into a conversation.
Recently, we celebrated our first major event along with the Rev. Dr. Hal Taussig. At Next Steps: A New, New Testament people discussed and discovered again sacred texts and extra-canonical texts that Christian communities have been reading since the second century. The discussion was rich and powerful and evocative. As one young lady told us, “This is the first step I’ve taken in a long time to return back to church. Thank you.”
As we continue to build on this community composed of people from a variety of walks of life, we try to build on this common value: “All voices are heard, and all journeys are welcome, and we are not alone.” The same Jesus who walked the road to Emmaus, sharing a story that made hearts burn with passion, is the same one who walks with us on this StartingPoint of our journey.
By the Rev. Lydia E. Muñoz
The Rev. Lydia E. Muñoz is Eastern PA Conference Missional Developer for the Central District and Pastor of StartingPoint:Philly, a UMC New-Church Start