In preparation for this coming Sunday, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what keeps people away from church. By church, I just mean a bunch of believers gathering on Sunday mornings/evenings (or Friday or Saturday) specifically. [you'd have to consult a panel of theologians to get to the bottom of what keeps people out of Church capital c]
One thing that strikes me anecdotally at least, is that most people don't have too much of a problem with what churches believe. In a few instances yes, views on right to life issues, homosexuality, or evolution might make people angry enough to not come back. But overwhelmingly, these are not topics that are brought up on Sundays...typically, most Christians or "people interested in learning about following Jesus" wouldn't find too much theology to disagree with in most evangelical-type churches in America. It seems to me that many people don't take issues with beliefs but with actions or with style(two very different concepts). "That church just wasn't a friendly place." "They don't have anything for young people there." "The pastor just seemed out of touch with the rest of the world." "All they talked about was money and tithing." "They had the nerve to talk about politics." See what I mean? What are your experiences with people who won't attend or have left churches? Are they fed up with heresy and bad doctrine, or did they not like the music pastor's hair? I don't mean to make light of the reason people choose not to be part of faith communities, some people experience incredible rejection and pain, others just get pissed. But short of having any substantial answers to this question, it does seem that to most people (Bible scholars and seminary students aside) put more emphasis on what we do than on what we believe. If this is even remotely true, what do we do about it?
I could be wrong though. Let me know if I am off in erroneous-tangential land.
I think it is disappointing how people put the method of reaching, supporting, and helping people on a higher pedestal than they put the actual result of the method. Ultimatly, the issue isn't how the firefighter gets the person out of the burning house, it is that they save the person from fire... right?? What right do onlookers have to critisise?? They should come along side and help... We use way to much energy and time trying find some thing that will suit "our" opinions, likes, and preferences.. Sometimes God just asks us to go... he doesn't ask our opinion of the execution of his plan...
thanks for that observation, whoever you are. interesting point...
it seems like the reasons you list are reasons why someone who has some foundation of faith already might choose not to associate. in my estimation, people who have no relationship with God choose not to make it a priority because they don't see enough value in it.
i mean, why would someonemake it a priority to learn to live more like Jesus when they're perfectly content with the life they already live? Jesus won't help them have a better life, he'll help them learn to give that life away. however satisfying and honorable that is to those of us who've experienced it, ultimately i think it remains a tough sell.
that's why our job is to create environments and opportunities for people to take steps toward Christ. it's the job of the Holy Spirit to motivate someone's heart to want to do so.
Justin, I agree with what you're saying to a certain extent, that many people simply choose not to involve themselves in following Christ because they don't see value in it. I WAS primarily addressing people who church-hop or have left church but I DO also think that many people are dissatisfied with their current states of being and are looking for something different but would right off Jesus/church because of the perceived hypocrisy or actions of those in leadership or community members.
It's funny because, reading back over what I wrote two days ago now, it does seem like I'm taking aim at consumer Christians who don't understand the value of sacrifice and commitment. But what I intended to do was simply pose the question, which this conversation is doing a much better job of than my post, of how can we address this issue, whether or not people who leave church are right or wrong? Words are funny, sentences even funnier sometimes...this is kind of off-topic but my comment about the worship pastors hair was more autobiographical than it sounded. When I was growing up, many music ministers had these terrible mullets that must have been a southern thing from the early 80s. However, the comment could be made to read "Justin Landis, worship and arts pastor, has really outrageous hair so I'm leaving this church!"
I do think that environment and aesthetics have a LOT to do with creating an atmosphere where a skeptic or non believer MIGHT consider changing her course. I also am of a mind that churches need to start seeing themselves as missionaries to a post-christian culture. Meaning that, similar to a foreign missionary, they should spend time LEARNING To speak the language, adapting to cultural differences and looking to meet people WHERE THEY ALREADY ARE. l
one quick thought on the idea of communicating culturally. bill hybels, the o.g. of cultural evangelism and learning to speak the language of your community and reaching out in the most effective possible way, has recently written a book detailing their findings from a several year, qualitative study of what they do.
what they found, as i understand it, is that the millions of dollars and man-hours invested in the programs and opportunities for people had yielded little actual growth. from what i've heard, they conclude that authentic relationship, quiet times with God, and spiritual disciplines are the ball game.
i'm not sure that this means that "cultural relevance" is dead, but i am sure that it may not be the silver bullet i've often sold it as.
good point again...that data about spiritual growth and self-feeding is very valuable.
however, as smart as hybels and his cronies might be, I think there's an important semantic problem with their conclusions. "cultural relevance" as least as it pertains to our cohort, could never be achieved through millions of dollars and well-thought-out programs because those things in themselves are simply not culturally relevant. when i speak of being a missionary to the culture, it has very little to do with what we do at church, beyond being outwardly focued in the community and inclusive of those on the margins and outside of the margins of what we believe. the only "silver bullet" is you. in the supermarket. at the lake. going to your neighbor's birthday party or your step-sister's wedding.
i resonate with your premise, but i'm not with the terminology. cultural relevance in your culture is different than in the culture of suburban chicago, just as it's different than the culture in sandpoint. being outwardly focused in one's own community has little to do with cultural relevance as i understand it, but as you say, is far more powerful.
I think, if I may interrupt, that a lot of people feel like they don't need church to have a relationship with God.
I personally think if your working towards a strong relationship with God that you crave a place to express. Also, that you seek out those people in the world who you can relate to.
My husband is one of the people who feel as though church is only an accessory to the Christian life and not a requirement.
(I plan to leave this comment anonymous, but I bet you know who it is Ryan. I know that you and my better half have had many philosophical conversations about this very topic.)
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