I am disheartened by some data I recently came across. According to a survey by Gallup, just 47% of the US population are now members of a church. That is down from 70% just two decades ago.
I am disheartened, but not surprised.
As a pastor of a new church, trying to get off the ground, I am privy to various creative ways many churches are attempting to get people in the door. I often hear things involving “new and cooler music,” “highly produced video productions with topics of today,” “vacation bible schools with the very best decorations and high energy activities” and Sunday services with “all the bells and whistles.” Sadly, I often walk away seeing fewer creative ideas and more gimmicks to try and fill seats.
Those trying to come up with the ideas mean well. It just seems like we are beginning to model church invitation after sales ploys used to get people to buy into a product. If one only looked at the various ways used to attract people, one might confuse church with a grand opening of a car dealership.
Many (not all) churches seem to be more about a “thing” instead of a “way.”
Over the past few years, I have spent a lot of time talking with people, both inside and outside of the church. I have listened to stories from people that have been in church all their lives, as well as from people who have never been, or haven’t been in church for quite a while. I have listened carefully to thoughts and ideas and have heard many of the reasons why people are choosing to distance themselves from the church.
Simply put, people are not choosing to leave the church, but rather, it is the church itself that is pushing people away.
We can try all the gimmicks we want. We can attempt to be as “hip” and “contemporary” as we think possible. We can invest in all the “special effects.” We can change all the aesthetics, transforming our churches into concert halls, coffee shops and bookstores. But none of these ideas will work without the one thing so many appear to be missing.
Our world is so full of sights, sounds and special effects. We can go anywhere to get the ascetics we seek to fit a mood. We can easily listen to whatever kind of music we desire. Most of us are within 5 minutes of a favorite coffee shop or bookstore. So, to think that our churches can have a lock on any of these “comforts” is a bit arrogant.
In listening to others, I have found that what many want from a church is far more simple but much deeper. I believe it may be what we all seek. LOVE. Sincere and honest love.
A church can have all the bling and shiny things. They can have the very latest styles and cosmetics. But if they do not have sincere and honest love, they are no more a church than they are a hip store at the local mall.
Instead of trying to attract people, why don’t we spend more time inviting people? Instead of trying to be the coolest thing in the neighborhood, why don’t we reach out more to our neighbors? Instead of more gimmicks and events, why don’t we simply share the love of Jesus Christ?
Really. Why don’t we share more of the love of Jesus Christ?
I am weary of people who identify themselves as Christian while, at the same time, sharing anything but love. So often I see churches that say they proclaim Christ as Lord but seem to spend so much of their time worshiping politicians, or policies, or the practice of disliking others. Churches touting loyalty to governing bodies over loyalty to God. For many, it would seem that God is merely a servant to a partisan agenda; used only as a tool to gain superiority over someone else.
Many churches are using the name of God to promote candidates, excuse verbal and physical violence, argue science and encourage the hatred of others.
Many (not all) churches have fought against the rights of their neighbors. Many have promoted prejudices. Many have promoted judgmentalism. Many have encouraged imperialism. Many have placed themselves in a very egotistical position, pointing fingers at others. Many churches have made it clear that some are not welcome inside their doors.
Is it any wonder why church attendance is falling?
Jesus was never about the bells and whistles. He was not about the latest gimmick. He was not about a politician. He was not about bullying. Jesus was not about closing doors or hating others. What was Jesus about? Simply put, love. Sincere and honest love.
Instead of looking to the latest ploy or stunt, or looking to a politician or party allegiance, perhaps we could better save the church by looking at the One that the church was founded on.
After all, it isn’t just about counting heads or getting people to support an agenda, right?
It really is about inviting people into a welcoming kingdom, isn’t it? About welcoming everyone to experience the grace and love of Jesus Christ?
I believe the answer to both questions is a resounding yes. I believe many churches out there do too.
May we all put the gimmicks, politics and agendas aside and truly follow the One that said;
“I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” – John 13:34
That’s how we build back the church. Deeply and simply. Honestly and sincerely.