A recent poll done by the good people at Pew Research Center indicate that church growth and attendance is declining. As much as we’d like to blame the next generation for the slumping numbers because they were never in church to begin with, it’s also people who were in church and now aren’t.
There’s a number of reasons why the church, especially the Christian Church is seeing a decline. For starters, the church, at least according to many today just isn’t relevant anymore. The church doesn’t teach the same values that society does and for many youngsters growing up in a secular world, it’s just not cool enough.
Another reason for the shrinking numbers is that church is what old people do, church means you have to get up on Sunday morning and get dressed, you have to go to a place where tattoos are frowned upon, nobody even knows what Pokémon Go is and you listen to someone tell you that everything you’re doing is wrong.
Perhaps those are two of the reasons that so many churches have tried to re-invent themselves. They’ve brought in youngsters by singing cooler sounding music, they’ve brought in lighting that makes worship time look like a concert, and I don’t have a single thing against new music (my phone is filled with contemporary Christian music, that I love by the way), I have nothing against using lights to get the energy up, worship should be a happy time as we reflect on how awesome our God is! But these are only band aids that temporarily cover the bigger issue, this may bring in a few newbies, but it doesn’t keep them.
I would submit to you that the number one reason for the dwindling numbers in our churches has little to do with the worship experience and much more to do with how those remaining church goers treat non church goers.
For many of us (myself included) we find it hard to navigate the waters of ‘love your neighbor’ and ‘obey the law’ all the while juggling whether or not we are allowed to judge.
In my experience there are a couple of types of Christians that are particularly unappealing to non church goers.
First we have the ‘doomsday’ Christian. Whenever something big happens, whenever tragedy strikes, whenever a natural disaster tears through a neighborhood it’s these doomsdayers who will find some way to relate it to the book of Revelation and go around preaching that this is just another sign of the end times. If there’s some political shift in power then it must have something to do with the apocalypse. And of course who can forget the whole blood moon thing last year that was certainly the sign of all signs signifying the beginning of the end.
Next we have what I call the modern day ‘Pharisee’ Christian. These are the self righteous Christians who think that everyone else commits sin and not them. These are the ones that condemn everyone else’s actions and act like they are closer to Jesus because their life is more pure than the lives of others. For the record, this is the category I fall into, despite my best efforts it’s always easier to see someone else’s wrongs than my own. The modern day Pharisee reads the bible, tries to live right and wants to do good. Problem is, the heart is often not in it and that’s something I, along with those who are like me need to pray about.
The doomsday Christian can come across as overly dramatic and bossy, “repent! For the end is near!” Which can be really off-putting and quite frankly makes us look like the fairytale believin Christians that many make us out to be.
The Pharisee Christian shouts “repent! And be more like me.” Which, once again makes us look like the self righteous Christian who thinks they have it all together.
So what ends up happening is we can come across as either crazy or self righteous and neither of those are appealing to a society that already sees church as irrelevant and unnecessary.
Again, we can bring in the music and the lights (both of which I don’t think are wrong, we should at least somewhat adapt to our culture) but that is not the solution.
We need to be the kind of Christians that Peter talked about.
Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.
1 Peter 3:15-16 NLT
Be kind. Be gentle. Be respectful. We can’t do that if we are looking down on people from the pedestal we’ve placed ourselves on, and we can’t do that if we thump others on the head with the book of Revelation. We do that by following the command given us by Jesus Himself…
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
John 13:34-35 NLT
If we start by loving each other, that is your Christian brothers and sisters then the world would start to look at the church and see how wonderfully we treat our own. They would look at us and think that maybe they do want to be a part of a family the way church goers are part of the church family. They greet each other warmly, they smile and give hugs, they ask how you are because they genuinely care and not just some informal greeting. Followers of Jesus get up and sing together without caring if someone isn’t a good singer, Jesus followers encourage one another and thank one another, they ask if someone needs help because they actually want to help! A Christian doesn’t walk by someone who’s hurting, they see that hurt and hurt with them.
If we can learn to love one another the way Jesus modeled it, the church wouldn’t seem irrelevant. People, even non believers wouldn’t want the church to close because they would see the good that it can produce.
If we can learn to love our neighbors the way Jesus commanded it, their would be no community who feels marginalized by the church. If we can learn to love, the Jesus way then the LGBT community wouldn’t think we hate them, likewise the guy with the drinking problem wouldn’t think that all hope is lost, the teen with the porn addiction wouldn’t think he is disgusting and worthless, the overworked housewife wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by all that is on her shoulders.
We can learn how to carry each others burdens, we can learn how to better take care of the orphans and the widows, we can learn to extend a hand to the addicts and the prostitutes, the drunks and the adulterers, the prideful and the lustful, the idolater and the one filled with anger. We can start there, and the more we do it, the more we will want to do it, the more we do it, the more people will rise up and do it, and soon we would have an entire army whose sole purpose would be to win souls for Jesus!
So as much as we want to blame everyone else for the declining numbers in our churches, as much as we want to blame the devil and we want to blame non believers the real reason people aren’t coming to church, and the real reason we are losing members is the fact that many of us just aren’t nearly as good a Christian as we claim to be. We push newcomers away with all our judgemental talk, we push insiders out with our pharisaical attitudes of self righteousness.
The solution? You. You are the solution, I am the solution. If we want change it starts with us, me and you so be the change my friend, be the change.