Why people don’t go to church. A second pondering.

13 Dec

A few days ago I posted about this subject in response to a pastor’s blog post that was brought to my attention. This post directly responds to part of that posting. The black text is quoted from the original blog post the text that matches the style of this paragraph (or is blue) contain my thoughts today in response to those statements. I am enjoying thinking about this and the thinking and passion I feel for this subject is again clarifying that my calling lies in this area of church remorphation.

1.  Church has little or no connection to the rest of our lives (i.e. work life, family life, social life) .i.e. Our lives are made up of segregated spheres such that the “world” where I work is not related to the “world” where I go to church, my school world, family world, etc.  The more “spheres” we have, the more “worlds” we have to carry, the more it is a relief when one sphere falls off (like church).  Furthermore, while work, for example, constitutes much more of our time than church does, the church teaches us that work’s real “meaning” is merely to evangelize and get people from that world to the church world (so they can be as busy as you).  Maybe we should question how the church should be empowering the person to their work instead…

The way we have ‘done church’1 has allowed it to become separate action from “life”, analogous to placing a battery in a recharger for a short time and expecting it to gain enough to be of use all week. One or even two hours out of a week of the kind of activity we consider to be ‘doing church’ is no way to keep us spiritually charged. If we would be able to find a way to first of all make spiritual growth and worship a part of breathing, and then of all else that we do, and then extend that into authentic communal times of declaring together the worth-ship of God, the institution of church would be more attractive to professing Christians and to those outside of it.

2. Church is designed to maintain superficial relationship that precludes community. i.e.  Pastor speaks, worship leader speaks, we have coffee, talk about the weather, and don’t see each until it’s more small talk the following week.  Faith and religion is expressed on behalf of the people with limited opportunity for interaction, dissension, doubt, or diversity.  Do we gather for meals?  Make sermons interactive?  Share more?  Start living communally?  🙂 

Yes. Building on my response to 1, the way we have ‘done church’ has been about leadership ‘imparting’ what is believed to be recharging food to hungry receivers (sometimes it is what they have said they need or want, which is dangerous). The food has often been intellectual, ‘chunky’ morsels, and/or fluffy nutritionless main courses presented with a flourish, mixed with entertaining ‘sweet’ deserts, etc etc. (I could spend a day writing food analogies). This practice has dis-empowered people from learning to find and take in their own nutrition. No wonder they start to look elsewhere.

3. Church insists the gospel produces wholeness and happiness but… real life says there is doubt, suffering, and brokeness.  i.e. Insisting from the pulpit that everything is swell doesn’t make it so.  Are we attempting to profess belief and wholeness on behalf of people who aren’t so sure?  Are we putting forward a vision of an other worldly heaven as opposed to living into the incarnational ministry of Jesus who brings salvation in suffering more often than “out of” suffering? 

Yes. In a pain-and-suffering averse culture it has been unpopular to demonstrate how shalom can be found despite (or in the middle of) suffering and struggle. We have created an escapist expectation that God will ‘rescue’ (save) us from suffering. And so, the way we ‘do church’ does not make it a place people think of as a prime help option when struggle comes. On the contrary, we have a deserved reputation for shooting our wounded to put us out of their misery so we can play happy.

4.  Church offers a “Jesus product” in the way other companies offer products to fulfill us. i.e. We emphasize creating a satisfying religious experience over being a community of God’s people being transformed and transforming the world.  Do we cultivate a “weekly fix” mentality?

Yes. “Shopping” for a place to ‘do church’ (Consumerism) from the one side and self promotion (marketing) your place as a good place to ‘do church’ are powerfully limiting forces to allowing the body of Christ (organism) to be healthy within the institutional church.

5.  Church is to God’s people what the Record Industry is to music. i.e.  Record labels are losing relevance in a world of social media, file sharing, self-recording, etc.  Is the church as a Sunday institution outdated?  Is it being left in favor of alternatives for providing community, bible exposition, participation in the sacraments, and Christian life?

I’m giving myself permission to skip one.

6.  The opposite of any of the above!   i.e. Church is too connected to my life, church insists on community when I want anonymity, church doesn’t satisfy my needs for a spiritual fix, church confronts my comfort and forces me to face my demons, church calls me to a rythym of submission I don’t want to accept.

Yes here too! Church, in feeding it’s institutional constraints, easily creates guilt driven adherents who feel the church is subtly or not so subtly demanding too much from them and they might leave because of that.

That same pressure wants to eliminate anonymity quickly and create involvement. But involvement in the machinery (even the social part) of the institution is not spiritual growth. The spiritual intimacy that being the body of Christ calls for and brings people to needs time to learn to trust, and it is good to let people start from an ‘anonymous’ place.

So the questions are simple.  What is the way forward?  Is there a way forward?  What can we do?  What should we do?  In what way, shape, and form is God calling the small “c” church in North America (and your church, and my church) to be the big “C” church in this time and place?

I am not clear on the way forward. Each context will have it’s own answer, but being part of a context makes you part of it’s blind spots as well, and of it’s resistance to major change.

Here’s what I do think I know:

Institutional constraints have become an exoskeleton that has been limiting the church from being as free-spirited as the body of Christ was incarnated to be… “the wind blows where it will” and the results are seen and it is know the wind has been at work. We tend to describe the results we want, and they artificially try to create wind.

A massive Deep Change effort must be undertaken to avoid the undertaker. (source of this statement will be explained at the end). Re-examine how the church has been serving these institutional constraints instead of them serving the body of Christ. Most of the constraints were useful to the body at some point, but the body became enslaved, just as Israel’s clan ending up in Egypt was a ‘good’ thing to start with but they got seriously stuck there. And just as the Temple was built to point to God and to have a place to meet with God but the people focused on the Temple and it’s rituals and lost contact with God. The constraints to be reexamined range from the building, through the forms of how worship is ‘done’, to leadership styles to really all aspects of it’s operation.

I found these thoughts well articulated in a book called “Deep Change”:

The process of formalization initially makes the organization more efficient or effective. As time goes on, however, these routine patterns move the organization toward decay and stagnation. The organization loses alignment with the changing, external reality.”2

The nature of the organizing rules in a world where expectations and other forces are rapidly changing is that they rarely keep up with the external and even internal expectations.

“When internal and external alignment is lost, the organization faces a choice: either adapt or take the road to slow death. Usually the organization can be renewed, energized, or made effective only if some leader is willing to take some big risks by stepping outside the well-defined boundaries. When this happens, the organization is lured, pushed, or pulled into unknown territory. The resulting journey through the unknown is a terrifying experience, with the possibility of failure or death a reality rather than a metaphor.”3

“At such times, organizational members face wicked problems, problems for which there are no existing answers. Facing imminent danger, they must “learn” their way, continually creating new pos­sible solutions and inventive systems of organizing, systems that are aligned with today’s, not yesterday’s, external needs. If the new arrangements work, the organization usually experiences a period of great success.”4

These things have long been and have more and more become my passion when it comes to the church. So I could not resist writing my thoughts down when I read the blog posting.


1 I personally have come to believe that God’s call is a call to a way to ‘be’ not to things that must be ‘done’, which is why I put the little quotes around the concept each time I mention it. The biggest and clearest clue to this teaching is in the parable of the Good Samaritan for me, where Jesus is asked “What must I do” to get heaven, and he shares a word picture of a person who does not seem to know about ‘doing’ (following law) but knows ‘how to be’ in a situation=have compassion, act on it.

2 “Deep Change” Chapter 1, pg 5

3 “Deep Change” Chapter 1, pg 5

4 “Deep Change” Chapter 1, pg 5

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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Uncategorized


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