Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why people don't go to church

As a pastor, one of the consuming questions with which I wrestle is “Why don’t people go to church?” In particular, the question is “Why don’t people come to my church?” If you doubt that people are opinionated, ask this question to a group of church people on a Wednesday night. I’ve studied church growth for several years, and I have a number of opinions about the matter myself. But, I wonder if we are asking the right question to the wrong people.

Several researchers in the last few years have begun asking people who don’t attend church why they don’t attend church, and the answers are interesting. George Barna asked this question and provided the answers in his book, Grow Your Church from the Outside In. The top five reasons that people gave for not attending church comprise 83% of the reasons why people don’t come to church.

1. No time; schedule conflicts; working 26%
2. Not interested; nothing to offer; no reason 16%
3. Don’t know 15%
4. My beliefs are different than the church’s 14%
5. Don’t believe in organized religion/
Don’t need to worship at a church 12%

1. No time. Churches can offer alternatives for working people, and we should do so to the extent that our resources allow. For the majority of people who gave/give this answer, I think it is a poor excuse. It seems to me that most of us do what we want to do. I know that I do. I make time for the things that are important to me. Sometimes I say that I don’t have time when I really mean I have time, but not for whatever it is you are asking me to do. I think that most of the people who gave this answer really mean #2, but they were just trying to be polite.

2. Not interested. This answer is the answer that keeps me up at night. Why aren’t people interested in church? I believe that the answers to this question are the keys for the church reaching the unchurched in our communities. Jesus is the most exciting person who has ever graced this earth. How could anyone not be interested in Jesus? Perhaps the problem is that people aren’t finding Jesus in church.

3. Don’t know. Fifteen percent of all people surveyed said that they don’t know why they don’t attend church. It sounds to me like these people just might come if we invite them to do so. They don’t really have a reason not to come.

4. Different beliefs. The beliefs of a church are non-negotiable. But, I wonder how many of the people who gave this answer really know what the church believes. Perhaps people know what we are against, but do they know what we are for? Most churches are “for” some pretty awesome stuff.

5. Don’t need organized religion/can worship anywhere. I believe that many people who give this answer are only fooling themselves. From a theological perspective we need each other. It is impossible to accomplish the will of God for our lives in isolation. God calls us to lead others to faith in Him and to teach others how to follow Him as we do so ourselves. How can we possibly do these things without some type of organization? The problem stems from a “me” mentality, but worship is not about me.

Sadly, some people are in the ranks of those who don't attend church because they have experienced great pain in a local church. We are sometimes brutal when it comes to our own people. I speak from personal experience. I have wounded others. If you are in these ranks because of past pain, you have my sympathy. Will you try to trust again? You may find more than you ever imagined at the feet of Jesus.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Got Purpose?

I love watching nature shows on Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel, the National Geographic Channel, etc. Shark Week sans the evolutionary mumbo jumbo is usually quite exhilarating. It is simply fascinating to learn the intricate details of thousands of animals and to bask in the awe of God’s creativity and wisdom. Recently, I learned that if you hit a shark on the nose (snout) there is a good chance it will leave you alone. I’m hoping I never get a chance to test that theory.

With all of the amazing animals that God has created, I think the most amazing are the Homo sapiens. We have the ability to study other animals and influence the lives of all of the other animals. We have great capacity to think (notice I said capacity) and ponder the great questions of existence. I mean, you never see a depressed shark moping around wondering if he will ever be able to program his remote control.

Ultimately, we want to know what the meaning of life is. We want to know why we are here and what the purpose of life is. Rick Warren’s success with The Purpose Driven Life demonstrates our quest for meaning and purpose, and this quest is not unique to believers. Most of us want our lives to matter. We want to know that what we do makes a difference.

God created us in His image, which makes us unique creatures. Because we bear God’s image we are able to exert some control over the direction of our lives. We certainly cannot control catastrophic events, but we have great freedom to shape who we want to be and what we will spend our days doing.

Shaping who we want to be is about living life with purpose. It is about determining the principles that will guide our lives and establish who we are at our core. Living with purpose is about having a gameplan for our life and deciding what we want our life to be to the extent that it is within our ability to determine. The time to set a strategy is before the whistle blows, and we find ourselves in the middle of tempting circumstances and alluring diversions.

So, what will we spend our days doing? If you listen to the talking heads on TV discussing football games (Go Bears!), you are likely to hear them discussing the execution of strategy or the lack thereof. And, the reason is clear – to be successful our plans must be carried out. Executing our plans means that we are living life on purpose. We are following our principles. We keep doing the right things (Lombardi) so that in the end we will win. A win for me means that in the end I find that my life really did matter.

Anyone interested in some saltwater snorkeling?