Sunday, January 05, 2014

Why People Don't Go To Church Anymore

In 1995 I remember telling my Mom, "in 5 years we may not recognize the face of the church." My Mom has been the organist at Swannanoa First Baptist Church for over 50 years. I grew up in this church and when we moved back to Asheville in 2007 I asked this church to be my church planting sponsor, a request that they responded to with less than positive enthusiasm. Swannanoa First Baptist still only has a piano and organ for praise music. Over the past few years they added a flute, tuba, trombone and called that a praise band.

In the Swannanoa community there are over a dozen churches of varying denominations and size. In 2011 a local mega church, Biltmore Baptist, decided to come to Swannanoa and plant a church in an elite private school. Biltmore sent over about 150 of it's own members and the local church saw their own memberships decline as young couples left the smaller churches for a more "high tech" worship experience. Whether I agree with what Biltmore Baptist did isn't relative, it's just the way of the corporate church. It's kind of like Target building next to Wal-Mart.

Since moving to Asheville and planting a church, my hopes and expectations have been shattered by what we've seen in the churches in this area. From people being down right mean to church leaders trying to intimidate us and bully me. Some of these were people I was looking too for mentoring and guidance. Granted I pushed back a few times against some of these church leaders and that may not have been the best course of action but what I saw was not what I had expected and certainly not what is taught in "church planting" classes. (Just ask any church planter that doesn't have a mega church backing them)

My point being, if I have experienced this as a church leader what do you think many families that attend church over the years are experiencing?

What needs to happen in America for the church to become a relevant and effective force in our families and communities again? That's a harsh question. Many pastors will say "these people just need to be in church on Sunday." A statement like that sounds good but why would a family want to come to a church where they are constantly on the outside and not included. That kind of thinking comes from a church attitude of  "everyone is welcome" displayed on the church marquee by the side of the road. Churches may say it but they don't practice it. Or better yet they are simply not equipped for it.

Most traditional churches aren't ready for "everyone" who may come through the doors today. I can say it because we have experienced discrimination and elitist attitudes from church leaders first hand. The church leaders think they are protecting there way of life somehow. But in reality they are tightening the noose around the life of that church. I have visited many churches that are struggling for members and when you talk to the pastors of those churches you hear a desperation in their tone about how to reach the community with a church body that doesn't want integrate with their neighbors. They want it like it was in 1975. Most people have figured out that the uber-healing and wealth based faith message is not what Christ intended his church to look like.

Church life is less and less about serving a community and more and more about serving it's own interest. Just try to get three church pastors together at the same time. Our daughter works as a server at a local restaurant and she is a committed Christ follower and has been involved in ministry all of her life. One day a couple left a postcard for their church on a table she was serving. The only problem with that was the couple didn't interact with her other than to order their food. The only thing this couple knew was to leave an anonymous postcard as an invitation to their church. Why would she or anyone else want to drive across town to a traditional church (based on the black and white picture on the postcard) 20 miles away from just the message on a black and white postcard?

Recently I had a social media conversation with a church planting pastor and he informed me that his church was for only those who believe in Christ. I couldn't help but imagine the loneliness and emptiness of such a church. That was a clear example of the divide between the church organization and the people of the community around it.

Organizations are starting churches on the internet, warehouses, podcast and social media. The church needs to be the community and reaching their neighbors with the love of Christ, which is available to everyone. It's one thing to talk about it and another to live it and show it. Those of us that know it need to learn how to share it. Christ built relationships to the people He walked with. We Christians need to build relationships with people in our communities. That's where Christ is.

What will church look like in 2014?