I read a lot of articles about how to get people to who “left the church” to “come back” and equally as many trying to describe why [insert particular group] isn’t coming to church. At some level, they’re interesting. Truth be known though, I’m increasingly convinced that most of them completely miss the point.
- It doesn’t have to do with the fact that they don’t have enough time – that’s simply an excuse (and not an honest one, at that).
- It doesn’t have to do with sports activities on Sunday – that’s only occasionally the case.
- It doesn’t have to do with worship style – that’s, for the most part, a matter of preference and it’s possible to find a church that reflect pretty much any preference in most communities.
- It doesn’t have to do with gender or racial realities – everyone knows there are congregations who fit any particular position one might have on any particular topic.
- It doesn’t have to do with any of the things most people (and, it seems most scholars) try to blame it on.
Here’s what I think: People don’t come to church because – when push comes to shove – they don’t believe it’s any more significant than whatever else they might be doing.
Yeah… that’s it. Nothing more/nothing less.
People’s actions reflect what they think is important. Period. You can comfortably ignore pretty much all of the excuses people give and all of the studies scholars do – as interesting as they may be.
Those who don’t attend church – regardless of what reasons they give for not attending – deep down inside simply don’t believe it’s worth their time… at least not as worthy as whatever else they might be doing. (Which is pretty damning to those of us in the church if they’re not choosing anything more significant than an extra hour of TV or a second cup of coffee!)
It does beg the question, then, doesn’t it: Are they wrong? Are we – who do participate in the life and ministry of the church – really doing anything significant enough to be worth their time?
- Are we making the world a better place?
- Are we fighting for justice?
- Are we truly acting as outposts of God’s kingdom?
- Are we engaging the living God in our worship?
- Are we inviting people into deep, world-transforming discipleship (and helping them with it)?
- Are we positively and powerfully influencing change in society and government?
- Are we… well, are we being significant?
It isn’t that we don’t believe significantly. It isn’t even that we don’t talk about significant things. Most of us do both. The question is whether we’re doing anything significant.
Changing worship styles may temporarily bring a few people in; changing worship times or adding services may make a minor difference for a few; adding “social” activities may even help a little, but they’re all cosmetic.
The question is: when they get past whatever’s comfortable or convenient, will they find anything that’s substantive?
The days of people coming to church “because it’s the right thing to do” are long gone. Societal pressure (at least in the US) used to be enough to get people in the pews on Sunday morning – regardless of whether or not it was actually worth their time to do so – not anymore!
The days have come when we have to earn our place on people’s calendars – when we have to deserve their time.
Yes, I know: God deserves it… but that’s not enough. God’s worthiness is irrelevant if they don’t recognize God’s presence in our worship or God’s work lived out in our lives and congregations.
There you have it. From my perspective you can ignore all the studies and stop wasting time on all the articles. If you we want people in the pews, we need to be offering something significant enough to get them (and keep them) there.
Grace and peace,