Why Nobody Wants To Go To Church Anymore: Reflections Pt 1
I was reading some minister's sunny blog post the other day about how the Presbyterian Church (USA) wasn't really dying, and that all of the other mainline denominations like the Episcopals, Methodists, Lutherans, etc. weren't really dying either.
The gist of the post essentially came down to this: it depends on what you mean when you say that mainline denominations are dying. If by dying you mean that they are dwindling in number, closing churches, losing congregations to other denominations, not attracting young people/families/younger ministers, and becoming increasingly political and divisive---that's not really dying. But if you mean dying to orthodoxy, creeds, biblical authority, Christocentric theology and the like---then yes, they are dying. Which, in this sunny author's view, was not really dying, but living.
Here's what I would like to offer as a rebuttal: Hogwash.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if there are HARDLY ANY PEOPLE in your church and you are too busy being an activist for one thing or another, too busy fighting with other Christians, too busy trying to be right in your beliefs, too stodgy and boring in worship that you don't even notice... then one day there will be NO PEOPLE in your church.
Which if intentions equal results (AND THEY DO) then that is exactly what some people within the Church seem to want---the place to themselves.
Interestingly, people on the OUTSIDE of the Church have been paying attention to this, and have decided for the most part that the Church IS NOT FOR THEM.
I just finished reading Thom and Joani Schultz' new book Why Nobody Wants To Go To Church Anymore: And How 4 Acts of Love Will Make Your Church Irresistible. Seriously. I very seldom read a book about the Church and churchiness that I feel like buying in bulk and distributing to every pastor friend, elder, church leader that I know. This is one such book.
Thom is the founder and CEO of Group publishing, one of the largest Christian publishers in the world. Joani is the chief creative officer of the company and together they oversee Group Cares, a nonprofit organization that helped nearly 400,000 people serve others around the world. They have dedicated their lives to supporting and resourcing the Church with curriculum for all ages, mission opportunities, Vacation Bible school programs and the like. They recently launched Lifetree Cafe, a program designed to bring people of all walks of life together for an hour of conversation over some of the biggest topics of our day.
And they've learned some things along the way. Through their research and also the research of great organizations like the Barna Group, Thom and Joani identified four reasons why most people claim they do not want to attend church:
1. People feel judged - whether it's fair or not, the Church is not seen as a place of acceptance and tolerance. And perception, unfortunately, is reality for many people.
2. People don't want to be lectured - the truth of the matter is that many people have doubts, questions and opinions about matters of faith and they don't feel that church is a safe place to share them.
3. People feel the Church is full of hypocrites - again, whether it's fair or not to paint with such a wide brush, most unchurched or de-churched people feel as though the Church is full of folks who say one thing, but then do the exact opposite, and not in a good way.
4. People don't see the point - for the most part, most unchurched people would like to experience God in some way, but they don't feel as though the God being shared in the Church is the kind of God who really cares about them and their issues.
Through their experiences with the groundbreaking program, Lifetree Cafe, Thom and Joani Schultz have discovered that these four reasons can be overcome with four acts of love---acts that have helped define the mission of Lifetree Cafe, and the Schultz' hopeful vision for the Church. They are:
1. Radical hospitality - a willingness to be open and welcoming to all people, regardless of their backgrounds, views, ideas, beliefs, etc.
2. Fearless conversation - a willingness to be able to talk about the tough issues, to hear questions, to engage doubts and to do so without judgement.
3. Genuine humility - a willingness to put the needs of others ahead of our own, to intentionally be in relationship with people not like ourselves, to admit when we don't know all the answers and to be as much like Jesus as we possibly can.
4. Divine anticipation - a willingness to actually anticipate that God is up to good things in the world, a desire to see those God moments and to point others to them, and a commitment to live life filled with hope rather than dread.
What the Schultz's realized as they began working with hundreds of Lifetree Cafe programs all over the country (and around the world), is that each of these four acts of love seem to counter the four deadly reasons that people are giving as to why they don't want to go to church any more.
If you are a church leader, your church doesn't need a Lifetree Cafe ministry to make these four acts a reality in your congregation (although it's not a bad idea). In fact, the Schultz's offer up some incredible advice to church leaders on how to implement the four acts of love into their own ministries---advice that is well worth heeding.
I highly recommend getting a copy of Why Nobody Wants To Go To Church Anymore, and if you are a church leader I recommend getting several copies for your staff and elders to read as well.
In the next installment of this two-part review, I'll be exploring some of the ways that my own church has begun to implement the four acts of love into not only our ministries and outreach, but our worship services, missional activities and much more.