First there were the Gen-Xers and Millennials who were Nones, then there were Boomers who were Dones. People leave the church for a variety of reasons. And yes, some of those causes are beyond our control; after all, people do leave the church when we are doing the good work of Jesus.
BUT more often than not, people are heading straight outta the church because we are not about the things that Jesus was about.
- We are anti-this-and-that, but seemingly ‘for’ very little.
- We speak in the language of politics but too seldom listen to, or trust, the heart.
- We talk much about holy community while wearing our Sunday best and fearing the judgment of other members.
- We have conflated a book about faith in God with the God it seeks to describe, the latter being much bigger than words could ever define.
- We allow the judgment of people(s) based on verses, often taken out of context in some way, without earnestly seeking wisdom from incongruence and experience.
- We too timidly support the possibility of global warming (or rabidly oppose it) while neglecting to act strongly to mitigate the wasteful consumerism that drives much of it.
- We still justify sexism, and idealize the 1950s, enshrining its musical preferences and gender roles.
- We keep people at arms length from the dangerous implications of Jesus’ countercultural message and the impolite conversations it might prompt.
- We have confused the success (or lack thereof) of our little churches with Jesus’ message of God’s Kin(g)dom for all people.
If we want people to head straight back into church, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, and truly welcoming the poor and needy (including folks who look and speak differently) within our walls, might be good places to start. After all, these were the marks of fidelity Jesus named, which we replaced with membership, preference, and privilege.
Some churches are doing these very things, letting go of the past to make way for the Spirit’s movement today. Praise God and may there be more like them! Unfortunately none of us get to do ministry in a vacuum and the hateful church down the street may be the only one our neighbors will ever know.
Until we change in mass, shut-down and otherwise diminish the loud, angry voices, and denounce the bad actors, we should not be surprised to see the continued waning of church influence, and of interest in and appreciation by people looking to make a serious difference in the world.
We need something like a revival and we need it now. Until more reasonable Christians can begin to control the narrative of what it truly means to be church, we should expect that unchurched people of good will shall continue to walk straight past our doors, pausing only occasionally to shake their heads at what could have been. And as it has been noted often of late, a number of us are walking out down the street with them.
Photo Credit: Image “In Living Color” by Flickr user Dave Gilbert, blurred, cropped, text added, CC BY-NC 2.0.