Last weekend most people in America avoided church. And, a sizable portion of those who did make it to church wished they were somewhere else. But why?

I decided to go direct to the source. I staked out a city park to ask the public why they weren’t in church. What they told me echoed what I’ve been hearing for several years now.

Their reasons centered around four recurring themes:

  1. “Church people judge me.” A young woman told me that as a child she regularly attended church and Sunday school. But she’s given up on the church as an adult. “They make me feel like an outcast,” she said. “How? Why?” I asked. “Well, I’m a smoker,” she said.
  2. “I don’t want to be lectured.” More people today want to participate in the discussion. A man told me he’s talked with over a thousand other men who’ve given up on church. He said, “Guys don’t want to sit in a room and idly listen to some preacher do all the talking. They want to ask questions. They want to share their thoughts too.”
  3. “They’re a bunch of hypocrites.” I know church leaders are weary of this “excuse.” But people aren’t merely referring to incongruous behavior. What bothers them is the sense that church spokespeople act like they have all the answers. That they’ve arrived. That they’re only interested in telling others what to do—“teaching,” to use the church vernacular.
  4. “I don’t want religion. I want God.” Most people don’t experience God at church. They’re not looking for the “deep” theological trivia that seems to interest some preachers. They crave something very simple. They’re dying to be reassured that God is real, that he is more than a historical figure, that he is present today, and that he is active in the lives of people around them.

Those of us who remain in this imperfect gathering of the faithful need to stop talking and “teaching” long enough to listen to the majority outside our walls. I’m not suggesting their views are flawless. Or that we should design ministry merely according to consumer whims. But we do need to keep our ultimate goal in mind—to help bring others into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.

That’s what defined the ministry of Jesus himself. He boldly broke away from the habits and routines of the religious elite of the time. And he fashioned a highly relational ministry that connected with the disenfranchised.

We’ve heard the four cries of the common people cited here so often that we decided to address them as we shaped the national network of Lifetree Cafes. In fact, these cries form the basis for the Lifetree values that are posted and stated each week at every Lifetree Café.

You’re welcome just as you are.

Your thoughts are welcome. Your doubts are welcome.

We’re all in this together.

God is here, ready to connect with you in a fresh way.