Looking for God

Making God Real to a Skeptical Public

It’s true. Most people avoid church. They’re not interested. But, that doesn’t mean they’re disinterested in God.

Here’s the problem. The population perceives that the church has taken its eye off its primary focus. Jesus has been sidelined by other, shinier things. As we conducted research for our new book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, we heard a number of things that distract people from the church’s true focus:

  • Social issues
  • Political issues
  • Church financial needs
  • Celebrity pastors
  • Showy worship
  • Sin and damnation
  • Rules
  • Theological minutiae

These things tend to repel the unchurched–and they distract regular churchgoers from the main focus. God gets upstaged. Only 44 percent of faithful churchgoers say they regularly experience God at church.

But 88 percent of the population say that faith is important to them. They desire to grow closer to God.

How does the church respond to this desire? Too often it responds with more teaching, more information, more rhetoric. Some leaders say, “The problem is biblical illiteracy.” That may be an issue, but it is not the core problem. The problem–as it was in Jesus’ time–is far more basic.

The public–unchurched and churched alike–is dying to be assured that God is real, alive, active, and present in their lives today. This isn’t complicated. They simply yearn for evidence, for reminders, that God exists, and loves them, and is personally interested in them. This hunger is felt even by longtime church members who’ve sat through hundreds of sermons and Bible studies. They know the information. But they desperately crave the inspiration, the close presence of God.


This angst connects to one of the “4 Acts of Love” we advocate in the book. We call it Divine Anticipation. People are looking for God. But they need help. Here’s where the church can enter in and help people see that the living God is not an aloof concept or merely an historical figure.

Divine Anticipation is a practice that beckons the church to focus on the main thing–a relationship with Jesus. Divine Anticipation equips people with God-colored glasses, so they see God in action–today and every day. Everywhere. God becomes a real and constant companion, not just a remote subject to be studied.

So, how can a church help create Divine Anticipation? A few ideas to get you started:

  1. Keep the focus clear. It’s simple: connect people with God. Faith is a relationship. It is not an academic subject, or a soap box, or a show.
  2. Elevate the present tense. Sure, share the historical, biblical accounts of how God acted thousands of years ago. But always balance that with present-day “God sightings.” Share microphone time with real people who bring real stories of God who is active in their lives.
  3. Make God watchers. Train people to recognize God’s hand. Go beyond the pastor’s personal sermon illustrations, and help people make their own discoveries of God’s presence in circumstances, in relationships, in nature, in “coincidences.”
  4. Allow time for God to act. Be lavish with time for silent prayer. Provide experiences for people to encounter God in tangible ways. Refrain from tight scripts that leave no time for the spontaneity of God. Be prepared to let the agenda bend with God’s moves.
  5. Validate your progress. Regularly survey people to see if they experience God. (We ask every week in Lifetree Cafe. Typically over 80 percent report they experience God during the Lifetree hour. If ever it slips, we make changes to ensure we create more space for God to act.)

Professional staff often make assumptions about their people’s spiritual state. That leads to answering questions no one is asking. People today long for the tangible presence of the real, living God in their lives.

4 Responses to “Making God Real to a Skeptical Public”

  1. Great post as usual. One thing I’d add to #1: Faith is both a relationship and a mission. It’s not just something we have with God, it’s something we do with God.

  2. “Refrain from tight scripts that leave no time for the spontaneity of God. Be prepared to let the agenda bend with God’s moves.”

    I had a bit of a laugh at that one. One church that I attended I was friendly with the worship leader. In a conversation with him he told me that the meetings were planned down to the last minute. prayer; 2 minutes. First song; 4 minutes. Second song; 3 minutes. Testimony; 5 minutes. Another song; 2 minutes. offering 6 minutes. Communion; 9 minutes and so on and so on.

    Holy Spirit, we will let you know which meeting we plan to slot you into the meeting programme.

  3. Let’s not glorify spontaneity in lieu of solid prayerperation! Prayerperation is praying, then preparing for your people to “experience God together.” Together! Jesus said, when we come together in His name, He is there in the midst. That should simply be what we count on. Knowing we can rely on and anticipate Jesus’ presence in our midst is the most we can do. I agree, though, that it is easy to control everything. Simply pointing out to those gathered that we are in the presence of Jesus together can be a catalyst for the “experience.” People will welcome the working of the Holy Spirit.

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