On the Pastor’s Heart:
Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore
(and what we might do about it)
Ok, so we don’t like it, but many of us know in our hearts that something’s not right between Christian churchgoers and non-churchgoing folk. And many of us feel something is missing in our own experiences at church, too. We just can’t quite put our finger on it.
Thom and Joanie Schultz, founders of Group Publishing, one of American Christianity’s most trusted youth and education sources, offer painfully honest and deeply hopeful comment in Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore (and how 4 Acts of Love will make your church irresistible), © 2013, Group.
Leaning on polls from Gallup, Pew Research, their own work and many others’, Schultz’s report: of 350,000 congregations in the US, only 2,200 showed growth in 2012; churchgoers are older than the general population; the younger the generation, the lower the percentage who affiliate with a church; 4/5 Americans say they’re sure God exists, but less than half attend church; giving in congregations is down across the board. If you want more stats, quotes, and anecdotes, there are plenty.
Now, lots of us church people get angry and afraid when faced with this stuff. It hurts! As when we cover our bodies with clothes, then find ourselves startled when we look in the mirror, church folk have been covering over, avoiding, and fighting anxiety over this for years. Now it’s obvious.
But if any Christians are invited to be honest, it’s Lutherans: “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…” we fearlessly confess. Schultz’s write,
“We, as the church, need to admit we don’t look that good. When others see us, they’re not all that attracted to us and wonder why we don’t make some changes. For our own good—and for their good, too. But like those of us carrying around unhealthy poundage, we’re looking for someone else to blame: McDonald’s, Ben and Jerry’s, potato chip manufacturers, giant sodas, commercials, oversized restaurant portions—hey, we’re big-boned! Like the overweight, we in the church like to shift the responsibility to something or someone else: declining morality, Sunday sports, bad parenting, bad attitudes, lack of commitment, the media, technology, busy schedules, the economy, Satan, unstable global influences, the Internet….
STOP! Blaming gets us nowhere. And it’s pointing fingers in all the wrong directions.
One thing we’ve learned at Group Publishing is to train all our leaders to speak the language of accountability. As a team, we read The Oz Principle together. It’s all about building a culture of personal ownership and responsibility. We’ve learned a lot about how to address issues head on in a healthy, productive way.
The church must do this, too. And we’ve got to start by confessing that the church is broken. Say it with us: ‘The church is broken.’”(16-17)
When Schultz’s asked folks why they no longer attend church, answers grouped into four reasons (pp. 24-27):
1. “I feel judged.” Fair or not, 87% of Americans label Christians as judgmental, …critical, disapproving, condemning. When author Phil Yancey asked a single mom trying to get out of prostitution if she’d tried church, she said, “Church? I feel bad enough already!”
Yet people long for love and belonging. Could Faith love all people with RADICAL HOSPITALITY, unconditional acceptance? Can we really love others as they are and not as (we think) they should be? Do we want to?
2. “I don’t want to be lectured.” Schultz’s find that all ages—from preschoolers to the elderly—want to engage in conversation. Sermons are mostly lectures, yet people have questions, doubts, stories; they want real connections and friendships and support.
Could Faith love all people in FEARLESS CONVERSATIONS that welcome each other’s and strangers’ thoughts, doubts, and insights in authentic conversation about issues that matter? Could we seek more to understand than to be understood?
3. “Church people are a bunch of hypocrites.” In 2007, 85% of Americans thought this; I doubt it’s changed. Religious folk often claim to know the “right” way try to impose it on others—when it’s pretty obvious that Christians don’t have our stuff together. Yet many people long to know that others struggle as they do, that they’re not alone.
Could we love others with GENUINE HUMILITY that is honest and understanding on every level? Can kind-hearted and open sincerity become normal? Can church—or at least this church—become the least hypocritical and most compassionate community in America?
4. “Your God is irrelevant to my life. But I’d like to know a God who cares.”
Research shows that most people don’t actually experience the presence and power of God on Sundays at church. Do you? How? Schultz’s write: “Relevance isn’t the worship pastor showing his tattoo on stage. Relevance isn’t serving fair-trade coffee in your lobby. Relevance isn’t showing the latest popular movie clip during a sermon. True spiritual relevance is seeing God in the matters at hand. Seeing God in MY life.”
All of us want to know that God exists and is at work in our lives. Could Faith love members and neighbors with DIVINE ANTICIPATION that God is always at work in you, me, others, and our world for real, deeply needed good? Can we become a community where we and others truly experience God in fresh ways—if not all the time, then much of it? Could we be “the most relevant place to go on Sunday?”
Friends of Faith, I believe that in Christ we deeply long to be people who practice these 4 Acts of Love: RADICAL HOSPITALITY, FEARLESS CONVERSATIONS, GENUINE HUMILITY, and DIVINE ANTICIPATION for ourselves and for the world. On Pentecost Sunday, I felt the Spirit inviting us all to a journey of greater engagement with God, each other, and our neighbors both inside and outside our building.
Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church: TODAY’S INVITATION
My gut tells me that by practicing four natural, joyful, Spirit-impelled acts of love in our current activities and a few new ways, we can experience more fully and begin to introduce more of our neighbors to the life-giving love and leadership of God.
So today’s invitation: choose one of the four acts of love to practice this summer, and see what happens. For more ideas, Friends of Faith Lutheran Hamilton and Faith’s website will have my summary of Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church posted this month. Pastor Brenda is hosting “fearless conversations” about the sermon after worship and resourcing on Facebook as Faith on the Road. It’s not just about making Faith Lutheran Church irresistible, it’s about experiencing and making faith in Jesus as irresistible and unstoppable as his love…the perfect way to continue The Reformation Martin Luther inadvertently began 500 years ago this year!
Join us for worship whenever you’re in town, check out posted sermons, and for deeper study, find a copy of Luther’s Large Catechism and see what our founding teacher wrote firsthand—it’s pithy and brief, and altogether refreshing Lutheran take on The Ten Commandments as we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of The Reformation.
This fall, we’ll build on the basics with more of Luther’s Catechisms and the most influential and transformative insights of the Reformation. Happy Reformation 500, Faith!