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Why Church Doesn’t Fit Most People

Most people don’t go to church anymore. And the minority who do regularly attend and appreciate weekly services fit a certain profile. They’re the church-inclined.

This shrinking minority differs from the majority in several ways:

  • Audience-Oriented. They appreciate a good presentation from the stage. They prefer to passively listen while the paid professionals on the stage do the work. Similar to theater-goers, they may judge the “performance” based on how well they are entertained or engaged.
  • Anonymous. They often seek anonymity. They like being part of a faceless crowd. They don’t necessarily want to be noticed—or known. They appreciate churches that keep the spotlight on the performers on stage, that allow the audience to sit quietly in the dark, so to speak.
  • Authority-Centered. They rely heavily on authority figures for information and inspiration. So, in the contemporary church, they count on the paid professionals to communicate the insights, move them, pray on their behalf, and do the real ministry.
  • Academic. They see the church’s role as primarily academic. They come once a week to obtain information about the Bible or God or life. They expect to hear an authority teach theological principles and historical data.
  • Auditory. They’re often auditory learners—people who take in and remember primarily through their ears. The contemporary church service suits them because it’s predominately an auditory experience.

For the shrinking minority, this type of church experience satisfies them. They’re content with the status quo.

But what about the growing majority of people who don’t regularly attend church services? Why don’t these same factors work for them? It seems that what attracts the church-inclined may actually repel or at least disinterest the majority. Let’s look at each factor again from their perspective.

Audience-Oriented. Though most people enjoy a good show, they don’t view their spirituality as a spectator activity. Even though they may long for God, they say they don’t see the need to sit in an auditorium and watch professional religious people perform rehearsed presentations.

Anonymous. Though most people seek occasional anonymity, when it comes to matters of the heart, they actually crave relationship. They want to be known. They want to contribute to the conversation. Telling their story is as important as listening to someone else’s.

Authority-Centered. Most people today have moved into the new era of information distribution, which is accentuated by the internet. Increasingly, people no longer have to wait for authorities to deliver needed information. They’re comfortable accessing and processing it themselves.

Academic. We live in an information-soaked world. When it comes to spiritual things, most people don’t sense they’re lacking hard data. They’re lacking the soft stuff of the soul. Their desired relationship with God seems more at home at Starbucks than in a lecture hall. Like any relationship, they sense growth in a relationship with God comes more from give-and-take than passive consumption of someone’s lecture.

Auditory. Research shows that 30 percent or less of the population is made up of auditory learners. Most of the population processes information and thoughts primarily in other ways. They tend to tune out when asked to endure a presentation that implies they should sit still and listen.

Don’t misunderstand. These people aren’t disinterested in God or spiritual things. They simply don’t find the church’s format a good fit for them. The typical Sunday morning service of half lecture and half sing-along simply isn’t a useful way for them to connect to God.

And it doesn’t matter how carefully the preacher prepares or delivers the sermon, or how polished the musicians perform. That formula just doesn’t work for most people anymore.

If today’s church wishes to reach beyond the shrinking church-inclined attendees, it will need to consider new and different ways to engage people.

I’m not suggesting the church erase what it’s doing for the current audience. Keep serving the church-inclined. I’m simply suggesting it’s time to add some additional new and different experiences. At different times. In different environments. To grow the church. To be the church.

42 Responses to “Why Church Doesn’t Fit Most People”

  1. Here is an idea: what if you had a church in a restaurant? Meet at 9.30 and offer the owner you will have the store full of paying customers at 11.00. Spend the money a church normally spends on utilities and janitors and buy everyone’s lunch. Because they are sitting at tables and booths, they would naturally talk. Plus, they would stay and eat together. I think the NT church ate together a lot.

    • Good thoughts, Josh. Many churches using Lifetree Cafe have planted their Lifetrees at local cafes and restaurants. Once or twice a week they transform a familiar community gathering place into an environment where God is welcomed into the conversation. http://discover.lifetreecafe.com/

    • I’ve seen this work! One summer, I took part in a GLBT-themed Sunday School. We were a small group, maybe 7 or 8 at most, and we met in a coffeehouse before worship. After 2 weeks or so, we had a ‘special’ table in a corner, and would arrive early to order breakfast and visit. The staff came to like us as part of their Sunday AM crowd. We were relaxed but structured, and discussed the lessons in terms of our lives and struggles. When summer ended, we had a party during our final class, and the staff was sorry to see us go. That is a wonderful model for worship, through fellowship!

  2. Thanks again Thom,

    Up here in Canada the church is losing ground. For a number of reasons “church” is not working. I think you have hit a few of them right on. Things are not working outside they will not work inside. We are largely “attractional” when we need to be much more” incarnational”.
    The times of people just coming to our churches are in the past. We need to go to them and bring them to the church. But yet once we do bring our people to church we need to have something in place that will engage them.

    Thanks again,

    Rob

  3. “I’m simply suggesting it’s time to add some additional new and different experiences.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, doing this is another thing altogether, particularly in a church where the church-inclined feel their way is the only way and are resistant in giving it up, tweaking it or adding to it. What frustrates me about this is that often these individuals don’t realize that through their obstinance, they’re standing in the way of the Church being able to reach new people. They feel the tried and true methods should work and if not, “those” people just need to get on board. They fail to understand that their methods may not work for everyone.

  4. Thom, you are spot on! The postmodern sensibilities of a culture that has shifted from a printing press/mechanical clock/telescope (print, word, principles, info dispensers) age to a television/cell phone/Internet (hyper-relational, experiential, image, social media) age has changed how people process (eyes/touch not ears) information and relate to one another.

    Good stuff to digest today, Thom! Thanks.

  5. Thought provoking to say the least. I cannot honestly explain any one single reason for the decline in attendance, there have to be several. I would say that a lot of folks can get a real good show on the Sunday Morning TV, no collections, no requests to serve on a commitee or office, When the congregation declines to a point where there are more postions to fill then there are attending members. Some longer serving attendees are very reluctant to change and many of the remaining members are reluctant to assume positions so they stay away, and the decline continues. This along with the continued decline of the moral fiber in this country also contributes to the decline.
    Wish I had some good suggestions! Perhaps to incite the younger crowd….a good band with hopping christian music???

  6. Frequent reader, infrequent commenter here – but you’ve left out something I think is major. It’s the ultramodern ambience, the avoidance of mysticism. Church design is so “up to date” with soulless mod architecture, lighting, sound systems and wretched powerpoint screens. There’s no sense of the ancient. We hate the ancient. We think to reach people, any sign of old-fashionedness is just dreadful, the mystical embarrasses us with the supernatural that we feel we should relegate to primitive thought and fairytales, and we assume congregants don’t want to be reminded of their ties to Christians of 100, much less 2000 years ago. Try to get any sense of the ancient or mystical in these miserable places. You want quiet and a moment with the Divine by candlelight. You get high intensity pot-lights on rheostats, and crackling sound systems instead. Oh, and Programs. A high-intensity social and activity whirl, but no communion with the eternal. Maybe more people crave the mystical element than we think.

    • Yes, absolutely Ruth. However, among addicts (including 18 – 22 year old meth and heroin users) there is a willingness to gather together and become part of the fellowship of AA. In the process many men I work with are accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior and are regaining their sanity and dignity. They are experiencing Christ and not merely the trappings of religion, i.e., form without substance.

  7. I’ll add one more thing.
    If the gifts of the people in the room aren’t necessary then you are simply putting on a show, creating consumers and making disciples of yourself rather than Jesus.

    The truth is the gifts of the community aren’t needed i most churches to pull off a sunday morning experience. Sure it would awkward to sing or preach to an empty room, but it can be done. Most services don’t need the gifts of the people in the room to do a service. They just show up and let others take that responsibility. Disciples own responsibility. They are the opposite of a consumer. Consumers give away power and look to others to meet their needs. If your church is full of consumers, it’s likely because you taught them to be so, or deep down, don’t believe they are capable of what it takes to be faithful.

  8. Well said. My concern with this is tends to stray into an entertainment direction, where engaging the people becomes priority over speaking truth.

    • Thanks, Carl. The current church model definitely leans toward an entertainment model. Many preachers attempt to “engage” people from the stage–the same desire as an entertainer. And, “speaking truth” actually accomplishes little if the truth is transmitted in such a way that it does not connect with today’s people.

      Most people aren’t looking to be entertained at church. They’re looking to experience God. Which, according to recent studies, does not happen for most people at typical worship services.

  9. This is why Organic Church as well as those who choose to live as “Free Believers” are growing movements. Both of these groups consist of believers who don’t want to be spoon fed religion, and those in Organic Church believe that all members of a fellowship should have the opportunity to share Christ within the church meeting.

  10. Our current pastor gives sermons with heavy emphasis on visual elements in her presentation. This helps me remember the points in comparison to purely vocal and abstract presentations. Our style of worship in very participatory. But these have made almost no difference in attendance.

  11. Has anyone here ever read any of the works of John Shore? Controversial as he may be, he’s hit the nail on the head: People are turned off by Christianity because of the people, not because of the tradition or the layout of a church service. The reason I’ve spent most of my life agnostic, the reason I always answered “spiritual, not religious,” and the reason that now, I still will not call myself “Lutheran,” even though I attend a Lutheran church, is because I still see the problems I did before; I’m just now happy in my small church that doesn’t tell me how to vote, nor does it tell me to condemn anyone. There is no required tithe, and my pastor had no problem with my best friend, openly gay and, at the time, was living with another man, being the man who walked me down the aisle when my husband and I were married. No one ever made a single comment about my husband and I having two children out of wedlock, nor did they so much as look at us sideways. I loved how supportive everyone was, and I still do. THAT is what Christianity is: loving and accepting with open arms.

    The problem is that Christians are still seen as hypocrites, hateful, preachy, unwaveringly conservative, and unabashedly self-righteous. I do not believe that all are, but there are those who definitely fit the above description. I do not think the actions and beliefs of a few should be the way an entire group is seen, but unfortunately, they’re the ones speaking the loudest and they’re the ones whose views are seen as “this is what Christianity is.” These stadiums of people crying and falling down because they’ve been “moved by Christ” are seen as just absurd. Didn’t Jesus tell us that prayers is something you do by yourself? It’s not what you do when people are looking that counts- it’s what you do when no one is looking. People see Christians over and over as hypocrites.

    What will bring people back to the church (or to church in the first place) will take a massive overhaul of the way Christianity presents itself, as well as going back to the fundamental teachings of Christ, which many churches seem to have strayed from. It will take a massive collective effort to show agnostics and “spiritual but not religious” people that Christianity is not a “conform to us” religion, but a group of faith in the son of God, and practicing His message of love and peace in everyday life. This is not a political action group- do not confuse voting based in your faith with bringing politics into the church- the church is better than that. This is not a faith that condemns ANYONE, but rather accepts and loves EVERYONE, no matter where they are on their faith journey or what they’ve done in their lives. Condemning homosexuality will get you nowhere- you can believe what you want about it, but Christianity is a faith based in love, and so to not love everyone around you is to not love Christ.

    This is not church-bashing. I love my church. I love my faith. I just want to be honest here. These are the things that kept me away for so long, and that still keep my friends away. These are the things that would change people’s minds about Christianity and bring many back to the church. This isn’t changing faith- it’s going back to the roots and strengthening it.

    • mariah,

      You are right – as Christians we’re our own worst enemy. It has been said the problem with people is people. What Thom is speaking to address the delivery of the message – and you hit on the part that happens once we leave our 90 minutes of worship. Both need looking into. It’s not either-or but yes to both.

      The format is unfortunately heightening the effects you are seeing – both for the seeker who shows up and thinks “Why should I listen to this guy?” and the believer who just sits to get fed and does nothing more to serve the church than warm the seat.

      As an artist – I love how our God’s first act – before he did anything in regards to us – was he created! Our God is an artist first and foremost! He created. We need our services to be rich in the arts. This is how we will reach the ones you mentioned – allowing seekers to experience God personally through an experience and to get the seat warmer engaged in serving in the service. Anytime you bring an artistic element in (drama, painting, dance, etc) there is more effort involved. This creates opportunities for more service – we have a catch-22. Pastors because of their prep practices, etc rarely tap into the arts like they could and thus don’t create opportunities to serve – and in turn are producing services that fit Thom’s description.

      God is bigger than any format – however He has called us to steward His sheep – to reach others for Him, so we do have a responsibility both on Sunday and on Monday. Time magazine said in an article a couple of months ago “..the next Billy Graham won’t come from the pulpit, it will come from sports or entertainment” to that I say AMEN! I’m putting my money on the arts.

    • ‘The problem is that Christians are still seen as hypocrites, hateful, preachy, unwaveringly conservative, and unabashedly self-righteous.’

      Yep spot on, and slowly going the same way in England too. In England the Christian community is seen as rather nice and rather tepid, and of little value to anyone outside of the mosly white, mostly Middle class suburban church goers, who may go more out of tradition than anything else. Or are the type you so truthfully describe sadly. Christianity in England also has a long pedigree of being the religion of the rulers, the religion of ‘might is right’, the religion that justified the British Empire and the rich and powerful doing awful things to people, and then because they proclaimed their ‘faith’ in Christianity, they could do whatever they wanted and still be good people. It was all a load of self-righteous self-serving hooey, but this is another reason why many ordinary people in England and Britain remain cynical about organised Christianity in Britain. I don’t know if that tallies with American organised Christianity but that’s how it is here.

  12. Largely true, especially here in the South; however I am a regular weekly church-goer and have been for all my 52 years, and yet I do not fit this description at all, except maybe the academic part. I don’t go to a “big-box” church, though, and never have, and I see weekly worship as only a small part of “being church.” I did leave my childhood church because weekly worship had become rote and tedious and ever-so-outdated. I go to a small liberal church now which still has a traditional or blended service but which appeals to all generations. More importantly, the church is very involved in the community, which is the most important thing.

  13. I’m wondering if talking about “style” isn’t often a way to dodge the fact that we’re just bad at worship. Sermons are terrible, the music unbeautiful, the liturgy stilted.

    I don’t know any churches that don’t have adult education, small groups, reading groups– but in the churches I know it is a much smaller subset who take part in these things than attend worship. Why is that?

    I also think the new research into learning styles (auditority, etc.) are poking holes in that idea. If you go to any university campus and find the person famous for good lectures — the place will be packed out. Confirming my sense that quality is part of this piecture.

    • Except Paula, every lecture is followed by a tutorial which is a small group under the direction of a tutor where the lecture is debated and pulled apart.

      Universities are wise enough to know that lectures alone are not good learning methods. One of my units at uni demanded attendance at a lecture at 8.30am in the morning which meant I would have to get up at 5.30am in the morning to be there.

      I discovered that the lecturer posted his lecture notes on the Uni intranet so gave the lecture a miss and downloaded his notes. Add to that attendance at every tutorial and I passed the subject.

      I know many other students did the same.

      What this tells me is that that the lecture is not important, the tutorial is. In most churches, the lecture is the important thing, the tutorials are not or non existent and that is one of the reasons why people in church learn very little.

  14. I’d like to take these aspects individually.

    Audience, certainly the knee–jerk applause of so many congregations only encourages that ONE view of church worship. I prefer another, perhaps older, view: the audience is God and we who present do the worshiping. Those at the front lead, like an orchestra conductor; some have solo parts.

    Anonymous, maybe “communal” would be ore apt. Attending a live sporting event is more expensive and time-consuming and provides a worse view and worse acoustics, but millions and of dollars and hours are spent to be part of the action.

    Authority-Centered. Maybe, but the time spent in study and prayer by someone who should be (and should be allowed/encouraged to be) doing it offers a perspective that those of us with secular jobs can’t obtain.

    Academic. Given the appalling ignorance of contemporary American Christians about the Bible and Christian doctrine, it’s hard to say we don’t need information.

    Auditory. This is true, but there’s no evidence that the percentage of auditory learners is less today than in the past–pod casts, any one; 90 years between Oscars for silent films.

    PS Mariah, as long as you don’t call yourself a Christian or a Lutheran, you leave those terms completely available for the others without your nuanced understanding. The solution to Christians being seen as hypocritical or Lutherans as lukewarm isn’t to abandon OUR name, but for us to reclaim it by walking the walk with the name emblazoned over us.

  15. Elder Greg Madden Reply March 8, 2012 at 11:27 am

    After reading your article, and every post below, I cannot get away from the most obvious reason why people don’t like to go to church: there us nothing drawing them! The Scriptures teach us that if the Spirit doesn’t draw people to the Lord then trying any scheme or gimmick will not work either. Could it be that our churches are lacking the real, tangable, presence of the Living God?

    Yes, we should avail ourselves of everything possible to proclaim the Gospel. But if we do so without the anointing of the Holy Spirit, any success we may have will sadly be “built upon the sand”

    At our church, we gave seen phenomenal growth, while at the same time going against what the so called church growth experts say. We sing too long, our people are over the top worshipers, our music is WAY too loud for most, our pastor takes 5-10 min offerings, he preaches WAY too loud for mosr, calls to come forward for salvation/prayer are public and up front, service clocks in just under 2 hours, ect… All this being said and yet our 950 auditorium cannot hold everyone & we are now going into two services and expanding our building. How is this possible? Simply put, we seek the anointing of the Spirit and He does the rest!

    Oh, and a secondary reason for our growth is the success of our men’s ministry. Men are not more important, but they are more stratigic. When you win men, you win!

  16. Paid religious professionals? Or pastors?? Your blog caused me to reflect on six different pastors in my life who each have had a profound impact on my life. A common trait in all their lives is a significant level of adversity in their own life, and their ability to share that in an authentic manner with their congregations. Perhaps the church traits you describe are simply our culture – we prefer to passively listen as opposed to digging in and finding our own truth. We often seek to be anonymous, not wanting to reveal our own brokenness. We rely on an external authority to direct our lives – instead of asking God to guide us through His word and the Holy Spirit. Should we simply blame the paid professionals and sigh about our sad state of affairs? Yet what is the other trait of our culture? When things get bad enough in our own lives we desperately seek answers. Does the church provide them? In my own life, as I lead one small group, and actively participate in another one – over the past year I’ve also encountered at least six different individuals who have profoundly impacted my life in a positive manner. Not pastors, but folks I’ve learned from in their adversity and in their stories. Yet as a small group leader – what resources do I have? Actually not many for adults, trust me I’ve searched for them. In my small group – this week I showed Group’s DVD with Mandy Harvey’s story – very powerful. There is one other Group DVD that I plan to show at our next group meeting. Beyond that – nothing from Group really fits my audience. So is the expectation that we expect the church service to do it all, or should we look at it as one component of many? Should there be resources that help pastors share their own brokenness in authentic ways that draw a broken people to the church service; and then should there also be powerful resources the church has in its arsenal that enable effective small groups? You gave me a taste of that in your DVD – I was touched by the ten scriptures included, dutifully transcribed those onto a handout for my group members, passed those out – and left that night feeling like I had done my part. Now God’s word and the Holy Spirit would do their part. Yet that was one night only. My challenge to Group is to give me more high quality resources for adults for small groups, and perhaps even resource pastors to be like the six who impacted my life – as we learn to be authentic in the church it can transform us.

  17. I agree that church should be relevant to the culture, but no one should dispense with Biblical standards or Biblical patterns of “church.” Worship of God, Prayer, Preaching/Teaching/Reading of the Word of God – all are central to “church” and should never be deleted or changed to the point that they are unrecognizable. Hebrews 10:25 says that we should not give up meeting together – so we can decide to “not go to church” or to watch church on-line, but if that’s the only way we experience “church,” then that goes against what the Bible tells us to do.
    I also enjoy visual aids and illustrated sermons, but the Bible says in Romans 10:17 that faith comes by HEARING the Word of God – not by seeing. I find it disturbing that here in America we discuss how church should be made more comfortable or friendly when in other cultures around the world, people are excited to attend church under a tree or in a tent or in a bamboo structure with a thatched roof or no roof at all ! And they walk for miles to get there and stay for hours in the heat or cold without complaining! Could it be that they love God more, and that we in America are spoiled with comforts and love God less? Maybe the problem is not with the church format but in our hearts! In addition, I believe the fastest growing churches in the world are Pentecostal & Charismatic. These types of churches believe in the power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit in operation today. When miracles happen regularly and prayers are answered, then people are definitely excited to come to church – they not only hear the Word of God, but also experience His love and power in a very real way. I thank God for my church and for the power of God that touches lives when we all gather there!

  18. I stopped going to church because church stopped having values!

    In the interest of getting more people in the seats change the values of the church to not offend anyone.

    I believe Jesus said to accept the sinner. Never was it said to accept the sin; change the value Christianity was based on.

  19. Amen and Amen again to Marilyn….. It is sad that entertainment is more important than worship. There are also people who say they don’t come to church because it’s not like it used to be. I think in most churches people are welcomed no matter what their circumstance, clothes, or station in life. New is not always better….. just new. Don’t get me wrong…. I love praise and worship however, preaching and listening, Bible study and prayer is also needed for our spiritual growth.

  20. I love church, always have. But I don’t fit into any of these categories you’ve mentioned. Hmmm. But then I have mostly always gone to “interactive” type churches where members would be called on to pray during the service, where members got up during the service and gave a testimony or insight into the Word or made a prayer request, where we prayed for the person next to us or got in small groups to pray, where we could ask and answer questions during the lesson or sermon, where even average singers could get up and sing a solo or duet, etc., etc. No professionals allowed. :-)

  21. My church has turned into a place where everyone known and/or trusted can share. It’s a lot better than the previous format. Our pastors aren’t burned out. No one is jockeying for positions. We actually know that god can speak to all the sheep and not just the pros. Most sharing is done without notes. We’ve had spontaneous songs. And we eat together after every “service.” Unfortunately, i usually don’t get to attend because of my job. However, the men have an unofficial meeting at a local Starbucks on Monday nights. For the past few years this has been my primary means of fellows. The services at the church building have no agenda and neither does this. We talk about everything; cars, movies, marriage, work, computers, the Bible, philosophy, (rarely) politics, current events, our lives and how we’re trying to release the life and love of God in our lives. You’ve heard of “too big to fail”. I think some churches are ORGANIZATIONS that are too big to succeed as a living organism. It seems to me that the church Jesus had in mind was supposed to function as body not an institution. 1 Cor. 14:26 looks as if Paul had no problem with everyone sharing as long things didn’t get ridiculous.
    It won’t be easy for the Church to take some positive steps “backward”, but I think it will have to be done.

    • Chris, I liked your comment that it won’t be easy for the Church to take some positive steps backward but I think it will have to be done.

      If you look at church history it is a constant story of the church taking positive steps backward, rediscovering the truths of scripture and putting them into practice. On most occasions only some have been utilised but each step is a definite step backwards.

      Today as never before the church is being challenged not by the world but by God to get with the programme (his) and only do what he says, not what the denomination says.

      The church is going to be triumphant but before that happens, God is going to have to get rid of a lot of dead wood that is preventing Him from running the show and applying his agenda.

      Today we are slaves to man’s agenda in his desire to control and keep the sheep from going where the best pastures are.

  22. Smart Person not Convinced by "Jesus" Reply March 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I think the reason the churches audience is lessening is probably because people are actually becoming smart. They don’t require 2000 year old theologies to understand things anymore. Honestly anybody that takes the “word of god” seriously (as in anything more than a series of fairytales imposed to instil good moral ideas into peoples minds) needs to step back and realize that they are just becoming mindless slaves to the biggest and oldest corporation of them all. I dare ANYBODY to try and prove to me that christianity is not a corporation that profits HUGELY, and also to prove to me that any part of the bible is true. (note that the best fiction references real events and times to improve believability)

    People, including my own mother, need to smarten up and get out of christianity. There are very few reasons for anyone to go to church:

    A: you’ve gone to church your whole life, endured christian brainwashing and now believe, and are an advocate of the teachings.

    B: You’ve gone through a tragic event, and were taken advantage of by the smiling faces in a church.

    C: You are afraid of dying and this is the only thing that promises you of more. (when the bottom line is, NOBODY knows what happens after death. NOBODY. PERIOD. not even the pope himself actually KNOWS what will happen after he dies)

    D: You dont have a grasp on science.

    E: You need friends.

    Thanks, this is not meant as hate-mail, I just really hate people throw their lives away over some old theology written by ancient people coming up with uninformed answers based on the best ideas that were present 2000 years ago. Id love to see a religion dreamed up during present day that is as mind-numbingly backwards actually catch on. the truth is, were just products of nuclear reactions from a star billions of years ago, and enough molecular interactions took place that eventually the right combination took place for self replication, more and more replication, then evolution and darwinism took over. end of story. its not a “random chance thing” as many theologists argue, its just a numbers game. and we happen to be one of the places where the numbers are in our favour. out of billions of galaxies each containing billions of stars, it makes sense that in the very minimum one place harbors self replicating molecules that evolve into intelligent beings.

  23. Christopher J. Neuendorf Reply March 27, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    What a horrifyingly anti-Christian article this is. And to think it polluted my church’s inbox in the form of a bulk emailing! I can’t defend the “church-inclined” model because it is a gross caricature that may fit commercialized megachurches, but not mine. And I can’t embrace what is here touted as necessary to reach the “growing majority,” because that would be to forsake what Christ Jesus my Lord has instituted for our salvation. True, Jesus Himself, as well as St. Paul, engaged the godless crowds through in-depth discussion, and the Spirit surely worked in those engagements, but that was always meant to lead toward incorporation in the body of believers, the Church, where all those whom God had appointed for eternal life were gathered to hear His life-giving Word and receive His holy sacraments. To suggest that it’s okay for people to substitute peer-to-peer coffee-house-style conversations for the humbly submissive hearing of the Word of God completely upends the divine-human order of things: God speaks, we listen. God commands, we obey. God gives His commands and promises through the ministers whom He has called, and God’s people gladly receive the gifts that God gives through His servants. And God’s people respond in thanksgiving, praise, and petition! The author of this article is so preoccupied with tailoring his ministry model to the felt needs of his intended audience that he has forsaken the Church that Christ has instituted–or at least left the Church to that hopelessly head-in-the-sand shrinking minority. The saying is surely true: Many are called, but few (perhaps a shrinking minority?) are chosen!

  24. You’re missing a lot of sociological reasons. People come to church for a bunch of other reasons too… off the top of my head…

    1) Relational – People who attend church to connect with people. Who, even if it’s not as close as a small group setting, just want to see people.

    2) Traditional – People come to church and really don’t know why.

    3) Support – people need stuff – sometimes actual physical benefits (meals when sick, etc) or more relational/emotional/spiritual needs – marriage problems. Encouragement, positive peer pressure, whatever,- Church is a good support group.

    4) Service – people like to serve – there are people who come to church because it’s an outlet to help their community, even it’s it’s a small part. (or like being a part of something bigish)

    5) Kids – people come to church for their kids – they assume that kids programs/ and sitting in the service is (while maybe painful) an important part of growing up.

    6)… lastly… I’m not cynical enough to omit something like – there are actually people who Love God and think that being part of a community of believers is part of worshiping Him…. maybe they’re not the wise consumers that we may expect but – those people are out there (crazy right?)

  25. It’s Just a Show
    I am a musician and songwriter and I love a good performance but I don’t like praise and worship music and I find it is repetitive and boring. I would much rather listen to a writer/performer explain what they were experiencing when they wrote the song and then sing it for us. A well-produced or performed song or service can move me but for the wrong reasons.

    I attended a huge Christian event one weekend a few years ago that was a huge production with big name performers, lights, cameras, big screens, etc. and among all these other believers I felt further from God, not closer.

    I have played music, built sound systems, organized large events for churches – all to get people in the door. ‘If only they’d come here’ was my mantra but what do we do to keep people here?

    I am also tired of the ‘People just don’t go to church anymore’ theme too. The fact is that some churches are growing while others, the one I attend, are closing.

    The Teenage Brain – Generation XYZ
    The most interesting insights I get about religion is from my teenage boys. How can we expect them to sit in their seats and passively listen to a message/music for an hour when they are used to texting 8 friends, surfing the net, with a tv show on at the same time? I have read some comments from post-secondary profs who say that the current generation entering universities simply don’t have the attention span to learn by listening to a lecture. My observation is that they can’t even sit and read a newspaper article. Everything is skim read on the surface so they fail to get the depth or story behind the story.
    When I ask my boys about their spiritual experiences it has typically been in small group settings at bible camp or in youth group when people really open up their hearts to each other.

    Just Ask and Don’t Forget to Listen
    Just asking people what they think is an important first step. A few years ago our church put an advertisement in the paper asking people to who considered themselves to be spiritual but not religious to participate in a focus group. The people who participated were quite diverse. Many had turned away from the church due to previous experiences they had in their lives. All participants were keenly interested in sharing their stories and were very intrigued that a main stream church was actually brave enough to ask the question.

    As one person said, “Just the fact that you are asking gives me hope.”

    Another said,” I can’t believe I am actually in a church talking about this.”

    Small Groups
    In my opinion, the commonality with all these stories I have shared is that larger gatherings do not seem to work. I am convinced that small groups with more intimate interactions are the key engaging people, letting them experience god’s love, and grow in faith, moving one step further along their journey.

    Until we figure out how to do this effectively, people will just stay at home.

  26. it is a fact that church attendance is down. it is a fact that many prominent churches have fallen for the hybels’ hype that church leaders need to make church interesting. yes, while this builds mega-churches, and puts you in position to interview a former president, it completely misses the point… and frankly, borders on blasphemy. Jesus didn’t have fancy clothes, a state-of-the-art sound system, visual effects, stage lighting, smoke effects… etc. He drew people with love, not marketing.

    the Word of God is energizing, motivating, challenging, exciting… all you have to do is read through it. it doesn’t need a presentation… the power is in the Word, not the pastor’s ability to deliver it. in fact, this is the problem and the root cause of declining church attendance. pastors are people… people are flawed, and they got in the way.

    go back and listen to the lyrics from the classic hymns, like “it is well”, “the old rugged cross”, “blessed assurance”, “how great thou art”, “great is Thy faithfulness”, “i surrender all”, and on and on… then ask yourself why these are not sung in churches very much anymore? these were not written to sell records or reach the masses… they were heartfelt lyrics written by someone who simply wanted to give God praise…

    i agree that it is counter-productive for pastors to “carefully rehearse” a message. why don’t pastors start with romans 1:1 or hebrews 1:1 and read verse by verse through the entire book and let God’s Word do the work? just read what has already been written… in context! Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches…” the branch can’t produce fruit, it simply holds it.

    the problems in today’s church can be summed up this way, being human, church leaders have been fooled into thinking that their holiness has given them a vine-like, production capability. they have forgotten that the holiness isn’t theirs, but His shining though them… no matter how big their following, they are still a branch, their job is to bear fruit, not produce it.

    God most certainly doesn’t need men to come up with ways to market Him…

  27. Just a couple of quick comments. One, It seems that the church in general has yet to work out that those who are excited about attending church meetings on Sunday morning are doing so. Meeting on Sunday afternoon or Saturday (the real sabbath) has not crossed their minds, so 90% of the population of a town will remain untouched.

    Taking over a dozen coffee shops on a Sunday afternoon or a Saturday evening would be good business for the owner and a means to take the gospel to where the people are at and feel comfortable with.

    The other thing is that a survey of the unchurched who were asked why they did not attend church, the reason at the top was that clergy were “up themselves” and full of their own self importance.

    I notice that in most christian situations we are introduced to a person that has a title and he/she uses it at every available opportunity to establish they are different to the rest.

    In writings they are the Rev, the Right Rev, The Very Rev, The Rev Doctor, The Senior Pastor, The Superintendent, Bishop So and So, Elder So and So, and so on ad infinitum.

    All these are an insult to every believer who does not claim special consideration. I have a theological degree and three University degrees and I am a qualified teacher but I don’t go around letting everyone know how clever I am or demand a title or position because of them.

    In many cases I can run rings around your average pastor, but as I am not recognised (ordained) by a denomination, I have no authority or allowed to be involved in pulpit ministry. (please note I have no desire to be ordained by man because I have been ordained by God and that is good enough for me.) I actually turned down an important ministry in one church because they said I could not do it unless I was ordained and given the title of pastor and addressed as such.

  28. This seems to be mostly Americans talking about church, and also Chrisianity in America. Here’s my take as an English Christian. I find as someone from a very Working class background that Christianity here is very gently, but very firmly and carefully, aimed at Middle class Christians, and that in many churches, especially established denominations like the Church of England, there is a very strong bias towards vicars (reverends) being well educated, rather decidedly Middle class, and somehow removed from their flock by dint of education or higher social class and whatnot. Of course, many churches seem also to be about attracting Middle class people, not necessarily the self-made kind, but the traditional kind, rather posh, rather well spoken, suburban living and those who consciously do not want to be seen as part of the common herd. I have said before that a good chunk of Christianty in England appears to be no more than a glorified social club for those who think they are better than everyone else. And try as I might, I can’t seem to find Jesus in any of it. Then we have ‘traditional Christianity’ those who go because their parents and grandparents went, on Sundays, sing a few hymns, listen to a sermon and say hello to the vicar! Totally dull, uninspiring and not reaching out to other people unless they fit the bill. Then we have the stereotype of the English Christian: rather posh, rather otherworldly, dressed in a blue suit for a man or a flowery 1950’s dress for a woman (age 8 to 80 for both sexes!) and appearing so antwacky and odd that nobody outside of Christianity wants to be a Christian or be anywhere near what they perceive to be Christianity. I am being a little harsh here, but many people will smile, nod and agree with what I say, and through the humour I am trying to make a very serious point. Christianity is not white, is not Middle class, is not European or American, does not belong exclusively to this group or that group: if God created every human being then every human has a God-centred hole in their lives. Instead of Christianity and some Christians being smug and self-obsessed, they need to get back to the Gospel and understand that Christianity is not a vehicle for self-righteousness and a club for the terminally nice, but God’s revelation to humanity. Christianity is not so much religion, but relationship.

  29. In my experience the reference to “church” in articles and comments like these are not talking about the Bride of Christ as much as the programming strategies people use to engage others with the gospel. To put it another way, there is nothing wrong with the “church.” It is our methodologies that must be examined.

    Personally, I struggle when we get these two conversations confused. These are two distinct conversations that often get muddled together.

    I often refer back to the bronze serpent God instructed Moses to create in Numbers 21:4-9. It was an effective strategy to extend God’s mercy and grace for a specific context. Fast forward roughly 700 years and the priests had named it and were burning incense to it instead of the living God (2 Kings 18:4). The very effective tool used in one generation had become an idol and stumbling block to the next.

    Tom – You have put words to something I have struggled with for some time. THANK YOU! Every ministry should wrestle with these things. Culture is not our enemy. Culture simply tells us how to lay the tracks necessary to develop effective programming so that we can engage the people Jesus died to save.

    I LOVE that we wrestle with these things! And in our wrestling let us not lose sight of Jesus’ promise to build HIS CHURCH; a promise that rests on His ability, not ours (Matthew 16:18) In our wrestling, may we fight the temptation to label other believers as the enemy (John 17:20-23).

    May the younger among us passionately fight to honor and understand those whose shoulders we stand on.

    May the older among us fight the temptation to settle into the type of tool preservation that gives birth to idolatry.

  30. Remember: Our goal is not to get people into church. That is only a means to an end. We must focus on the product and not on the packaging it is wrapped in. Our “product,” what we are selling, is found in Matthew 28:19&20. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” It is not enough to get people into church for fellowship, a meal, or a hootenanny. People must study Christ’s teachings and apply them in their lives.

  31. WOW! Thanks for posting this article. Exactly what my wife & I have been going through the past couple of years. I learn a lot from a pastor like Andy Stanley, or simply ponder with renewed interest something he teaches which I already knew. But Mr Schultz is correct…I use so many more internet based ways to worship as an addition to prayer & direct relationship with God. For example, North Point (Andy’s church) offers all their services streaming live online plus his messages are always available online if we miss a service. He also podcasts Your Move, broadcasts on live & recorded TV, and I believe uses radio too. Other pastors (my mentor Stephen Armstrong, Verse By Verse Ministries, for example) podcast entire Bible studies meant to take one literally verse by verse through a book of the Bible. A brick-and-mortar church definitely has it’s place, and one thing Mr Schultz didn’t spend time on in this article is the very real positive of fellowship, especially at the smaller, non-mega-churches. I do hope though that declining worship service attendance means the majority are choosing to fellowship with family & close friends in other ways, and the majority continues to serve Jesus with or without brick-n-mortar churches. Take care and God bless.

  32. AMERICAN GOTHIC CHURCH: Changing the Way People See the Church.
    Reaching the unchurched requires changing their mental image of Christians according to this newly released book by Jeffery Warren Scott. Churches that that are successful in reaching the unchurched are likely to be encouraging, joyful, and compassionate.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Teaching to Everyone in the Room | Handy Dandy Youth Ministry Blog - May 2, 2014

    […] reading an article by Thom Schultz called Why Church Doesn’t Fit Most People, which was a pretty good read, I decided to write an entry […]

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