A couple days ago, I posted "A Church for People Who Don't Like Church" about a local church who boasted such a thing on their huge sign. Many of you posted some excellent responses to the question of what makes people not like church.
Today, I'd like to discuss the three lacks I see as being deal-breakers for most people, Christian or not. Sure, more lacks exist than these three, but I think any church that overcomes these will be 90 percent on target.
3. The church accentuates the inconsequential while downplaying the essential.
I was once a part of a church that deemed repaving the parking lot more important than world missions. True, if a church's parking lot resembles the Grand Canyon, visitors might be a little turned off, but it's the priorities of the heart that come through. Even unperceptive people can tell when something big's out of whack. And though we occasionally give unbelievers no credit for discerning the deeper waters of your Christian heart or mine, folks are less stupid than we believe.
If we gush over our church's beautiful sanctuary, but ignore visitors, we choose the inconsequential over the essential. If an elder goes on and on about how important tithing is, while the discipleship program at the church is non-existent, then we've got our priorities screwed up.
I don't know about you, but I suspect that most people who walk into a church have their senses on full alert. They're scanning and evaluating every single second of their time in a church. To make matters worse, our inherent American skepticism only enhances the full bore analysis of everything a church does. Visitors, Christian or not, can see through the veneer we've been cluelessly polishing for years.
Some people get overwrought about those churches that play up the kind of coffee they serve out in the lobby. If a church wants to whisper something positive about the quality of their coffee that's fine so long as they shout the Gospel from the rooftops. Sometimes it seems—at least to me—that the gushing over the free-trade, rainforest-preserving coffee is given greater honor than Jesus Christ.
An obvious example, perhaps. But what inconsequential things do our churches trumpet while they totally ignore the essential heart of Jesus?
Personally, I think every aspect of what a church is and does should be held up to scrutiny. Accentuate what is permanent and lasting and downplay everything else. Don't keep stumbling around in the old status quo. If our churches aren't making a difference in the lives of their congregants or are failing to impact the community around them, then a real gut check is needed.
Put it all on the table and shine the light of Christ in it. The gold will always clarify if we do so. Then let's put it on display.
2. The church's people are cold, self-absorbed, or immature.
I don't care how impenetrable or crusty a person might be, she'll warm to people who are loving and genuine. But more than one impenetrable or crusty person has turned his back on the Church, never to return, because he encountered disagreeable Christians.
Listen, we're the aroma of Christ. Put a fresh-from-the-oven cherry pie out on the table or fire up a carafe of hazelnut-infused coffee and watch how that luscious aroma sets mouths a-watering. How much more will people who are saturated with the perfume of Jesus attract others! But if we're a people of hope and joy, why is it that so many people are turned off by Christians? Is it because we're sending the opposite message? Do we smell bad?
While some people flow in the gift of hospitality, others can learn it. Seriously, you can teach people to be more friendly and caring. We can be more considerate. Having a little consideration head our direction couldn't hurt, either. Contrary to popular belief, you can't kill someone with kindness. In fact, I would guess that most people are dying for a little love to come their way.
I've lost track of how many times I've walked into a church and feigned ignorance of all things "Christian" in order to get a visitor's-eye-view of what interactions come my way. Nothing hurts more than to walk into the most widely known church in this country and walk out an hour later without a single human being saying anything to me. Not one word.
Who we are as genuine, caring people makes an impact. If the Church of Jesus Christ can't out-love a sewing circle, softball team, or motorcycle club, then perhaps we should stop asking why people are choosing to spend their time elsewhere.
1. The church lacks the transcendence of the Father, the fullness of the person of the Son, and the immanence of the Holy Spirit.
My wife and I discussed this concept of "A Church for People Who Don't Like Church" and came to the same conclusion that nothing—absolutely not one thing—can substitute for people encountering the Godhead in our meetings. Why would anyone darken the doorway of a church that has never seen the Holy Spirit dwell there in power?
Being a charismatic disqualifies me in the eyes of some people from being able to speak about the brooding of the Spirit in our church meetings. They automatically assume I'm some tongue-speaking nutjob jumping pews with a cobra in one hand and a cottonmouth in the other. But I've been in meetings—too few if you ask me—where the Spirit was so thick in the room it was like swimming through oil. For all our talk of being a New Testament Church, I can't read the Scriptures and see any other kind of church than the one where God shows up and shakes everyone. Folks, that should be a normative experience for us! Too many of our churches resemble the Sahara instead of India at the height of the monsoon season. We've satisfied ourselves with a drizzle when the floodgates of heaven are poised to rain down on us!
People are dying to know Jesus as a real person. Our churches in this country are doing a massive disservice to each person who steps inside their building if they fail to present Jesus in His fullness. Yet how often do we shy away from this aspect of the Lord or that so as not to offend people with the truth of who Jesus was and is?
The cross may offend, but we're not getting enough people to that point because we've not made enough of the attractive person of Christ. Of course people don't want to die at the foot of the cross if we've never given them a reason to be so in love with Jesus that taking up the cross becomes a small burden to bear. Every man, woman, and child on this planet is dying for Jesus. I'm convinced that even the most heinous person to walk this sod has some hunger for the reality of Christ in his or her life. Our problem is that we've not preached Christ enough to meet that need. We can't be shrinking back from the truth about this Person we claim we love enough to die for.
Nor can we preach a small God who only exists to satisfy our relentless cry for self-aggrandizement. The folly of most megachurches consists of tossing out the Father's transcendence and otherness in favor of the celestial grandfather monstrosity so many are selling. The Orthodox churches understand this; I suppose that's one of the reasons that so many megachurch burnouts find Orthodoxy attractive. What else explains the rapid growth of Orthodox Churches in the last five years? If God is not transcendent, then we're worshiping the wrong God. I suspect that many people are, having been sold on easy believism and "God, our buddy" shenanigans.
Let's face it, we'd be packing our churches if we approached this correctly. As Leonard Ravenhill was fond of saying, "You never have to advertise a fire." Show me a church that upholds the transcendence of the Father, the fullness of the person of Jesus Christ, and is so filled with the immanent presence of the Holy Spirit that people can hardly walk into the sanctuary, and I'll show you a church people will be dying to get into. Even if they ultimately reject what they've experienced, they'll never be able to say they failed to encounter God in a Christian church.
Those are my three.
If these have struck a chord with you, leave a comment and tell me what you think. Better yet, leave a comment and let me know how you can employ these three in your own church.
Have a great weekend.
21 thoughts on “Thoughts on “A Church for People Who Don’t Like Church””
Great post, Dan. 🙂
On point number 1, I came across a quote from C. S. Lewis the other day in which he said that there is all the difference in the world between reading a map of the coastline and feeling the spray of the ocean upon your face. People come to church, he said, not to be taught to read maps about God, but to “feel the spray.”
I love that. 🙂
Excellent illustration. Thanks!
Point 3 is certainly true: we strain at gnats and swallow camels. We lose sight of what matters in a bid to emphasise the trivial. We sing dodgy subjective “worship” songs without question, yet get upset when somebody changes the brand of after-church coffee without telling us.
The second point is essential too: how many people have been in our churches only once because they were not made welcome?
But the first point is harder to pin down. We dangerously assume that God’s presence will give us a warm gooey feeling, and if we get that in church then we proclaim “The Spirit is here!” But in reality it may not be like that. His presence may (perhaps “may” is too weak a word) convict of sin, and that will not be comfortable. Visitors to church may be looking only for the comfortable stuff, but sometimes, like the rich young ruler, what they get may send them away never to return.
No doubt. I didn’t argue for a cozy feeling all the time. I’ve always been amazed that most word of knowledge given in charismatic churches are always positive. You never hear a word that begins, “You need to repent of….”
“You never hear a word that begins, “You need to repent of…. ”
On the contrary, this is the way it should be. It’s always dangerous giving a word about someone’s sin in the congregation because:
1) There are deceiving spirits out there… just look at the fun folks in Africa have with an accusation of witchcraft from a witch-smeller, even if they are totally innocent. You can totally wreck someone’s reputation with a false word … after all, God Himself has accused this person, hasn’t He? Or so the congregation thinks? There’s no way the man can defend his reputation even if he’s pure as the driven snow.
2) Even if it is an accurate word, confronting a person in front of the entire church is not always the best way to induce repentence. IIR my NT correctly, that sort of thing is only supposed to happen after first private confrontation, then 2 or 3 witnesses, and then and only then do you bring it before the entire church.
So it is no wonder to me that so few words are rebukes. God seems to observe “praise in public, rebuke in private” as a rule just at the best earthly bosses do.
Rebuking the *church as a whole* might be something else entirely. But then, in my background, I think we’ve heard so much “God hates all you sinners” for so long that people just don’t listen to it anymore. Johnathon Edwards brought a Word 200 years ago — “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” — that brought real conviction. The problem is, so many people have tried to imitate him, bringing a message God didn’t send, that it has inoculated the body.
No doubt on the “repent” word of knowledge! I’m with you 100%. I’m also in agreement to how that can be abused. That’s why the gift has to come from the Spirit and not some hopped-up moment that comes from soulish behavior and not the Spirit.
Great article. We just left a church that started a “vision” program…this included getting a coffee house and remodeling the worship center (can’t call it a sanctuary anymore). If you wanted fellowship you had to go to the coffee house; the sermons were brief downloads. Now we go to a small church in a simple building…the sermons are like rain in the desert…I go home and study further and my conversation is filled with what I’ve learned. It’s funny…I think there is fellowship and friendship to be had at this new church, but I’ve been so starved for the gospel, nothing else really matters. For the first time, in a long time, I can hardly wait to go to church. Funnily enough…since we left the old one, the people from there are finally friendly…we’ve had more invites in a month than in 25 years of attending.
I’ve always found it strange that a church can improve one area of ministry but then let another fall into disrepair. In America at least, it seems like we can’t put together the complete package.
I think there is a definite shortage of real bread being served from the pulpits today.
I think you have hit the nail on the head so to speak.
Longing for God, for even a glimpse, a touch, or a taste of this amazing Love of Christ is why I long to find a church home. To share what I have of Him with others and learn of them what they have of Him in order to grow to know Him and learn to walk as I should. It is hard to do this by your self. We were meant for fellowship with Him and with His people.
Whether you know the Lord or not, it is very disheartening to go to church after church and look for Him where He ought to be found and not find Him. Not only to not be fed the Bread of life ( which is essential to survive ), but to not even be acknowledged by those that claim to know Him.
I am very glad to have found this site where at least these things are talked about. Even in looking for fellowship on the web ( a poor substitute for a church, but for some it is all we’ve found to date ) it seems these same problems exist. If the doctrine is sound they merely argue about it’s points or bash each other. I know you have posted on this as well.
When a very young Christian I remember learning a song with the lyric, “They will know we are Christian’s by our love.” I have a great deal of trouble being a loving person on my own. I think deep down next to Gods love we need His peoples love too.
If the salt has lost its saltiness, with what shall it be salted?
I belong to an AG church which I love dearly and worked at another denomination’s main building. I hesitate to even write this but what I saw there made me walk out of my job last week, with much prayer and soul searching. This denomination acknowledged that the Holy Spririt exsisted but as a pastor I had from this denomination years ago told me, “We don’t do do the gifts in this church,” because he knew I came from a charismatic church before I came to his. I believe that giving the Holy Spirit sway flies in the face of people who want to control.
But on the good side, I believe God is really getting ready to show up in mighty ways all over very soon.
One counter issue to an otherwise sobering essay: “I’m convinced that even the most heinous person to walk this sod has some hunger for the reality of Christ in his or her life. Our problem is that we’ve not preached Christ enough to meet that need.”
This doesn’t bode well alongside the scripture that says no one seeks after God or words to that effect. We must be drawn by Him. The burning desire you describe are in only a few of the brethren, and you would be among them!
How can I add to this? Finally, I found a friendly small town church who acknowledged me as I entered the first time.
I could certainly continue in this vein to greet those who might be overlooked or are new to the church. Do my fervent prayers make a difference? Yes!
My idea for the great church : good qualities describe above but with fasting, great outcry for the Spirit, and discipleship. Converts not transfers.
Trouble is, the churches in America can’t handle great Godly things. We’d just end up wrecking it. Besides the mountaintop is great for reflection and joy but you can’t do much more than that. The real work is in the plains and lowlands.
People don’t seek after God because they don’t know what it is that they’re trying to satisfy. The cliché is the “God-shaped hole,” but I believe that to be true.
I also fully understand that not everyone dying to fill that hole will respond when presented with the hole-filler, Jesus Christ. But Christ is still the one everyone is ultimately looking for, even if they foul up and miss Him, or—sadly—never hear about Him at all.
That is certainly a thought provoking post. I truly believe that one of the reasons many people avoid church today is two-fold. One, we live in an instant gratification culture in America today. We want everything fast, from our food to our abs, to our faith. Many are going to churches looking for a quick “feeling” of goodness. Well, I assume you can get that from some drugs as well, but the effects soon wear off. Living for Christ is more than just a feeling we get from going to church for an hour or two and helping some old lady across the street. It’s a fundamental lifestyle change, it’s a choice, it’s living with purpose, and having faith in more than a feeling. It’s more than religion, it’s a relationship. There may be 8 min. abs, but there is no instant prayer. James says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.
Two, I believe many avoid church because they want to avoid having to deal with morality. Today, we are so inundated with ourselves, that we have lost sight of a servant’s heart. I make my own rules, or you can’t tell me what to do. These types of attitudes where one makes their own morals is pushing us farther from God. Darwin spread evolution for the purpose of wanting to behave in whatever sexual manner he deemed appropriate to without having to deal with morality. So, it concerns me to hear of a church promoting itself as a place for those who do not like church. Nowhere in the Bible does it say it is easy to be a Christian, but it is very clear that we cannot serve both God and man. The church should be a warm place, filled with Christ’s love and compassion, but in no way should we kowtow to the mindset of the world.
I think your first point is well taken, but I’m not sure about the second. I honestly don’t believe that moral issues turn people away from the church, at least not in great numbers. I think most people do see themselves as being sinners, but their way around that is by trying to be good, which they can never do to earn salvation. We’re not preaching enough on that issue if the sheer number of people who believe that fallacy is any indication.
Well, as usual, my comment and reflections on this topic will not only be coming from a different ballpark… they may even be misunderstood, rejected or even laughed at… so be it…
In all blunt honestly, I think we are thinking too hard about this issue of why people don’t go to church…
For me, the bottom line issue is the very same reason why many, many believers and followers of Jesus Christ won’t enter into the Biblically modeled and taught expression of delightful, praise-filled worship and adoration of our Lord and Savior… it’s cuz… (ready?)
They don’t WANT to. That’s it. They don’t WANT to.
So the real question that must be asked is WHY DON’T people WANT to obey God regarding gathering together with other believers? I happen to think it’s because “the church” does not understand her true calling. Every church I have ever worked in, or visited, or been in some other way associated with, seems to be such a machine of getting through the printed bulletin that no real encounter or connection with the Lord ever takes place – because there is no time. It has also been my observation that many (please note, I did not say “all”) believers in those services seem to maintain an attitude of stubbornness or reluctance to actually being free to let go and delight in the Lord.
I do not for one moment subscribe to the notion that our worship is based on personality traits and issues – and the reason I don’t is because we don’t find this in scripture – anywhere – ever.
So, why aren’t people going to church? It’s because 1) they have gone and feel like it’s a waste of time because, 2) they have not truly encountered the life-transforming power and presence of the Lord in their services/churches and that’s because, 3) most churches are reluctant to honestly allow their services to go down that road for fear that things will “get out of control.”
And what we end up with is a glorious waste of 2 hours on a Sunday morning…
To Dan McG.: One reason some people don’t go to church is because they *used* to go until they got burned by other Christians and let their pain get in the way, or that the gospel was so watered down in the first place, they were starving spiritually and left, feeling church is useless. Sad, I know.
I used to go to the golf course, but the Pro never learned my name,and the club house is full of hypocrites. Besides that, one day the foursome behind me made some snide remarks about my form. So now I have no need for the golf course — I can play golf just as well in my own back yard.
That’s exactly how I feel about the church, I’m glad I found this web site. I gave up on going to church on a regular basis becuase it’s hard to find a church on fire for the Lord. Stagnent is what I consider most church’s to be. If the church was really chasing after Christ, miracles would be an everyday thing.
I had to go before I could finnish my 1st comment. I do go to church, but not on a regular basis. I find it more edifying to listen to God here on the net with daily devotionals and by searching here for places like this where I can relate. I’m used to being alone so sitting in a church full of people actually makes me uncomfortable. But if I new of one within a reasonable distance to drive that was “On fire for the Lord” instead of just preaching bland subjects “That won’t offend anyone” Id go alot more often.