“A Church for People Who Don’t Like Church”


Don't Like Church?A church located on one of the major highways that we routinely  travel has a huge sign out front that reads

“A Church for People Who Don’t Like Church.”

I think about that sign every tiime I pass it, wondering what it is about “church” that shoos away the average person. Those of us who have been churchgoers for a long time take going to church for granted, but if the polls are right, more and more people are staying home on Sunday.

So what say you all? What do you believe are the parts of the whole we call “church” that people don’t like?

78 thoughts on ““A Church for People Who Don’t Like Church”

  1. Dire Dan: “So what say you all?”

    Well, er, I suspect it might have something to do with America increasingly becoming a “post-xtian” society, much like what Europe already is. That would be the very short answer.

    According his book “A Peculiar People: the Church as Culture in a Post Christian Society”, Rodney Clapp says that it can actually work out for the good now that the Church no longer “calls the shots” on how the larger culture is constituted.

    (In fact, Clapp’s book has so much to chew on that I’m re-reading it twice.)

    • Oengus,

      I’ve heard great things about Clapp’s research. He’s the one that said that the Church in Rome grew in large part because Christians were the only ones willing to tend to the sick.

    • JustSomeLady

      I dislike church in the same way that some people dislike the opera, Celene Dion, baseball or heavy metal music. Put a Christian message in any of these genres and it won’t be fully received by those who don’t respond favorably to that particular medium. I love Christ for sure but church in it’s generally accepted format is merely tolerated and only for so long. It’s not something that most people can just overcome or learn to enjoy.

  2. “What do you believe are the parts of the whole we call ‘church’ that people don’t like?

    Uh, maybe the people attending the church?

    Not meaning to be cynical, just succinct.

      • sherry

        I’ve been a Christian a while now and the church most certainly is a place I do not like anymore. In my newness to it, I loved the welcoming, kindness people exuded and loved being part of the community. After maturing in my faith, I found that many church goers are judgmental, see the world as us versus them, refuse to love others although they claim that what they do is love (even though they may be repelling a person from christ Himself), the list goes on. Of course this is not a cover all list of every individual that attends church. I’ve met some amazing people that are church goers, although far and few between. My experience is that most people in church haven’t matured in their faith and operate on milk rather than meat. And to be honest that is annoying to be around when you have real questions…because all you get is condemnation and scorn. I’ve never met anyone that genuinely cares about my soul yet.

          • Bob,

            I’m very sorry to hear about your experience. I’m convinced that the only answer to this is to always be the bigger person, whether it be in graciousness or simply in actual gospel-based living. I hope that enough of us can do this so as to eventually bring about some change.

        • Ed Pierson

          I am so sorry for you and my heart can identify with you. When one studies Scripture we soon see that the church does not really and truly operate like the book of acts. OH they say they strive for that, but it doesn’t. The early church met in small groups in homes. not in elaborate structures, thus we never gain familar love for one another. The smaller the church the more family it can be if they are willing to love. I have suffered just as much in church as in the world and i speak that to the churches shame. Christians are sinners like anyone else. We are not better than the world we got called out of. We just had our eyes opened to the grace of God and responded. We now have a responsibility to love one another. I hope you will befriend one in the kingdom that has the love of God to share with you, truly. May that be your experience and mine. God bless

  3. Derek Simmons

    One of the DWM–I think it was David Martyn Llloyd-Jones–said in words to this effect that life lived in Christ and His Power is self-commending. When the work of the likes of Barna regularly remind us that there is not an observable difference between the behaviors of “Christians” and culture, there is little observable transformation occuring in the lives of the Churched, and little, therefore, commending “life In Him” to unchurched onlookers. If the world can’t tell the difference between a Rotarian and a Christian there probably isn’t one, and so the Spiritually needy sleep in, stay home, and are fed watching Sunday morning TV and consuming extra cups of coffee.
    Your Brother in Christ,

      • JDW

        I should probably let Derek answer your question, but
        love for one another (John 13:34-35) and unity in Christ (John 17:21) would be my answers. (Can you tell which book on your “essentials” list I just finished?) I wonder if Barna or another group has ever attempted to measure these kinds of things.

  4. I think it has something to do with the overall shallowness of many Christians. To make church optional provides a glorious morning to sleep in and to do some catch up wprk on everything that needs to be done. Also, going to a church without getting to know the people is pointless, and many Christians are reluctant to open up their lives to other Christians becuase they are afraid of being burned for it. Or else going to church is too convicting and they would rather live their lives the way they want to.

    That’s just my theory off the top of my head. =D I really miss going to church….and the very day I’m well enough there’s not going to be a thing anyone would be able to do to stop me from going, if I have to walk there barefoot!

    Hehe…God bless

  5. Heidi,

    I spoke to a woman this week who said that her only time to get eight hours of sleep is on Sunday morning. She’s not kidding, either. Between her work and some truly difficult circumstances she’s in, she’s on the go 24/7/365. If church is unavailable to her, what options does she have?

    • Ed Pierson

      I have a similar situation. I take care of my Mother who has bad Dementia and Diabetes. She lives with me as a shut in. I make church here and there, but not always. I can go a month, or even two months away from church. I work and then have everything to deal with at home. Bills and food, Cleaning, Laundry, Up keep of cars, Cooking, Yard work. I have not even mentioned how exhausted i can feel at times from it all. its tough! Christianity begins in the home, so i see that my mother needs me. And it defeats the purpose to forsake her cause to make church functions. To me thats like saying that you can’t take someone to the doctors thats very sick, because you were on your way to a bible study. It kinda defeats the purpose. Forsaking the assembly of ourselves means ( TO NEVER GO TO CHURCH) that is not what i am doing. Mt family will always come first. Anyways she can read scripture and give some time to the Lord. I am always in thought on the Lord and praying unceasing. We have a relationship with God and not some religious approach to church attendance. God bless !

  6. I believe that the actor (pastor/staff/music team) audience (pew-sitters/lay-people) nature of “church” is a major culprit. It is difficult to be authentic in such a setting. You stare at the back of some body’s head while someone else stares at the back of your head. Grin and grip for 45 seconds, sing, listen to some guy talk, give, and get home ASAP. Church is like a play. Grab your program and enjoy the show.

    I believe there is way more to the church than what we see. The fact that many “go to church” instead of “exist as the church” is evidence of how misguided we can be. There is often such a wide chasm between the show (public services) and the way life is that hypocrisy is almost fostered. The difference between life and death in a church is often body life where ever member is a minister.

    We have handcuffed the people of God to pews while a few clergy become the embodiment of body life in and of themselves. Until we loose God’s people to minister we’ll never see the kind of dynamic Holy Spirit ministry we need.

    The expectation is that pastor’s equip God’s people for the work of ministry but people never learn what real ministry is while they sit in a chair.

    It might be better if we considered our small groups, house churches, and mentoring relationships as the seed bed of a dynamic Christian life. Public services could serve as places we celebrate what Christ has been doing in body life on occasion. Too much control is exerted upon God’s people. Don’t worry, doctrinal purity can still be a priority. We need to empower God’s people to act like his people by getting out of the way.

    • There is often such a wide chasm between the show (public services) and the way life is that hypocrisy is almost fostered.

      Jeff, expand this for us. Give us examples of this “hypocrisy” and how it’s resolved.

      The expectation is that pastors equip God’s people for the work of ministry but people never learn what real ministry is while they sit in a chair.

      Are people that clueless? Or is it something else?

      We need to empower God’s people to act like his people by getting out of the way.

      Church leaders have gotten out of the way, but then the people just sit there. I don’t think church leaders have hamstrung people.

      I think that a lot of people in our churches are like Michigan J. Frog from that classic cartoon, “One Froggy Evening.” The construction worker finds a frog encased in a demolished building’s cornerstone. Upon being freed, the frog puts on a top hat, then dances and sings. Yet every time the construction worker tries to show anyone else the frog’s talents, it just sits there and croaks.

      I suspect a lot of church leaders see this same phenomenon in their congregants. They repeatedly hear what they can do to help, yet most of them sit there. The leaders know they can sing and dance, but they don’t.

      Why do you think this is?

  7. Dan,

    I think your question has a few trails that lead to answers. One is that our culture is losing respect for church doctrine and it’s related calls to Holy Living. Most think the church having any expectations for them as they progress in their spiritual maturity is “legalistic”. The plurality of acceptable beliefs in our society now leads people to believe they can worship on their own time and in their own way and live however they want and a church that has expectations is just a prison with rules.

    The second trail leads to a generation that is coming of age where no church background is present. In the past you always had someone in the family with some background but this is the first large scale generation with little church upbringing so winning them to the Lord is a challenge. They aren’t sure about church, don’t know what to expect, and are afraid of rejection if they do come.

    Just some thoughts

    • Scott,

      …our culture is losing respect for church doctrine and it’s related calls to Holy Living

      What doctrines are familiar to people who have never stepped foot into a church? Why do you think people would be opposed to them if they don’t truly know them and have never had a Christian frame doctrine in any way?

      They aren’t sure about church, don’t know what to expect, and are afraid of rejection if they do come.

      What if we led our evangelism with the person of Jesus Christ rather than with do’s and dont’s? What if we stopped using church as our primary means to evangelize, leading people to Christ BEFORE they stepped through the doors of a church?

      • Dan,

        What doctrines are familiar to people who have never stepped foot into a church?

        In making this statement, I was sharing what I’ve heard from my own personal experience as a church planter. Many people who have some church background….(i.e. someone in their family has been in a church) are well aware that getting serious about serving Christ and being part of a life-giving body of believers will bring about expectations of change after a period of time. No more drinking…No more cursing…No more living together with someone who isn’t your spouse…etc.. That sounds very simplistic but I’m trying to be brief here. I’ve had unchurched folks tell me they either have no time for church or they don’t feel like having to change their lives because that’s what they saw in their family.

        What if we led our evangelism with the person of Jesus Christ rather than with do’s and dont’s? What if we stopped using church as our primary means to evangelize, leading people to Christ BEFORE they stepped through the doors of a church?

        That, my friend, is the goal. To allow Christ to endwell us so deeply that his love, mercy, and majesty gushes from the abundance of what is in our hearts. That would be attractive to the unchurched and if that is what was offered, I dare say we’d have more folks in church. Alas, in today’s culture, you don’t have many folks willing to drink deep to learn spiritual discipline to bring about that effect.

  8. I think much has been said that hit’s it on the head. It seems that ‘Christian’ = ‘Churchgoer’ in modern society. I wonder if that was how it was originally. I can’t see how. Why would folks want to crucify you for where you spent your Sunday mornings?

    I’ve been out of college for 15 years, but when I went away to Cinci for college, I dismissed the idea of going to church out of hand. No need for it. A life of attending church had taught me two things:

    • Church was mostly a Sunday AM social thing. We didn’t see ‘church folk’ outside of that very often. In addition, Sunday mornings were mostly repetitive and had no bearing on my life throughout the week. It was when we dressed up, listed to some general talk about the Bible and smiled at and shook hands with folks we didn’t know too well.
    • My ‘Christianity’ was between me and God and no one else. Flawed doctrine, but common I think. “Personal Releationship’ I learned. Ther was no connection between my own spiritual health and the Church.

    Put thiose two things together and you can see why I left home seeing no need to arise early to go to church on Sunday. Oh I thought I knew God and understood Christianity, I just didn’t need Church. It was irrelevant to my reationship to the father.

    I fundamentally misunderstood what the Church really was, mostly because those around me misunderstood it as well. What I had been shown was a social club and I didn’t need one. Especially one so superficial and shallow.

      • Lisa

        I was a jewish girl was not raised with religion. Someone introduced the bible to me 19 years ago and talked to me about Christ. Not church. For the next 18 years ago I read the bible (though mostly during trouble times) I prayed to Christ, not just to God and lived my life as a good, Christian should. I talked of Christ and tried to live as he taught, with the exception of fellowship. I finally desired to be baptized. There was no were to be baptised in Christ without being a member of a Church. Since most of my friends and relations through mariage were Catholic, that is what I chose in order to get baptised. I went to church every Sunday. Went to classed every Wednesday and my desiree was strong and I was parat of a group of others anxious to become Catholic. Once Easter passed and I was officially Catholic my disappointment was great. I was no longer sitting in Church with the group of soon to be converts, I sat alone in the pew. I entered the church alone, was greeted in a procession by the priest that was greeting hundreds of others. I was just a sheep in the heard. Prior to my baptism I felt like a coddled lamb that was so desired to be part of the flock. I proceeded to sit in the pew alone. Not even greeted until the precise time the priest said “Turn and greet your neighbors” When I received my first communion my disappointment was even greater. During my classes and journey to conversion I was denied communion. You are not allowed to recieve until you are baptised and confirmed. Baptism alone was not good enough. We all know that when you deny someone something the want is so great it becomes a mission to gain it, often to the disappointment that what you get is not what you expect. I expected to be filled with the body and blood of Christ. I got a dry wafer and a sip of wine. When the mass ended I walked back to my car alone, but among a procession of families heading to breakfast or shopping, errands etc. All talking about where they were going, none talking about where we had just been. I continued this for a few weeks when I realized that I had a better communion with God in my car alone than in Church. I stopped going. Does this take away from me. My Godmother is very upset and I have hurt her very much. She cried to me because she feels she failed me.

  9. ccinnova

    Speaking as a never-married fortysomething, I can’t help but notice how the American church appears interested in ministering only to families even though the most recent census revealed that nearly half the adult population is single. In fact, some evangelicals have resorted to stigmatizing singleness and even depicting singles who don’t marry by a certain age as sinners. Not only does that drive Christian singles out of the church, it makes evangelization of singles who don’t yet know the Lord much more difficult.

    • Ccinnova,

      How the church treats singles is a BIG issue. We tend to compartmentalize people, shunting them into groups that share their demographic. So much for being a family!

      • Becky

        I second the compartmentalizing thing. When I moved to go to college, the first thing I did was find a tiny church that didn’t have enough college-age kids to start a program for them. If Campus Crusade or the other campus churches had been my only options, I very likely would have stayed home.

        I think part of the aversion to being compartmentalized comes out of the deep suspicion that you’re being sold something in church. You get separated into groups, target audiences, with whom the church can use specialized tactics for making a sell. If the church has abandoned teaching for a sales pitch, or comes across as having done so, then why waste your time? When except the Super Bowl do people voluntarily come to an event to be marketed to?

        • Matt Self

          Becky, I never feared being marketed to, but I’ve only been seriously involved in one church as an adult, so perhaps my experience is skewed. I have long held, however, the singles are underutilized and not recruited enough to do stuff married people don’t have time do. We spend too much time trying to get singles married, preaching on the benefits of marriage and family, while forgetting what Paul said was so beneficial about being single in the first place!

    • jim

      i agree–i recently bacame single and i attend church!!! i feel so alone being alone!!! am waiting for the LORD to bring that special someone, still waiting!!!!! God bless, jim

      ps: i feel married pastors are much more happier than single pastors!! now i know why GOD said to adam in the garden “man should not be alone” !! Amen

      pss: being alone stinks & gets depressing after a while!! sincerely, alone in florida

  10. Northwriter

    Why don’t people like church? Interesting question.

    I suppose the main reason people stay away from church is because they are spiritually dead. Without spiritual life, there is no reason to seek what the church has to offer. Maybe some people go to church looking for answers to their problems and end up finding spiritual life, but I suspect that the majority of people in America today do not see a need to go to church before they see a need for salvation.

    For those who are believers, those who possess spiritual life, the reasons for staying away from church probably fall into a few broad categories:

    Immaturity and self-centeredness. It’s all about me. What will the church do for me? What am I going to get out of it? What programs do they have for me? How will they meet my needs? Will they make me feel good? Will I get the recognition I deserve? What’s in it for me? Me. Me. Me.

    Going to church puts a person in a position where he may feel obligated to do something more than sit and watch others do all the work.

    Some people demand to be entertained at all times. If the pastor, choir, etc., aren’t entertaining enough, some people stay away completely or else hop around from church to church seeking the best show.

    Church life requires commitment. That scares away the modern American.

    Many people want to know what they can get from going to church. Few ask what they can give by going to church.

  11. Matt Self

    I believe declining church membership has a lot to do with how people think of church leadership. Let’s assume for the moment trust in church leadership is not the issue. Even before church leaders started making scandalous headlines, the consensus of a lot of people seemed to be church leaders are the ones being holy for the rest of us. Attendance, while helpful, is not necessary.

    The less people feel useful as church members, the less likely they’re going to show up. By that, I don’t mean people aren’t being asked to help out, such as children’s service, etc. I think it’s a larger issue of many church leaders across all denominations fail to utilize talents and lack a ministry outside the church doors that might inspire people to show up and be used.

    If you want to throw in people who see church as a place about “me,” and some of the other common criticisms, I think that’s how you arrive at the cumulative number of people who no longer attend church.

  12. Amen to what Northwriter said.

    I was glad to see someone pointing the finger at personal responsibilty instead of blaming the church for not meeting expectations.

  13. Bonnie

    S-I-N. People don’t like the word, nor do they want to hear any preaching on it. The Bible is full of calling people to repentance, practically every book- unbelievers do *not* want to hear about this- especially in the “moral-relativism” age. Isn’t this obvious?

    Scott Cheatham’s second trail (up there somewhere) is right on as well.

    • Bonnie,

      Though I believe the American church today is weak on preaching against sin, I’m not certain sin is the issue that keeps people away from church. I think most people are aware of their sin, even unbelievers. I’ve never met an unbeliever who didn’t have some concept of their own personal sin.

      If your assessment is correct, then people who don’t want to hear about sin wouldn’t go to a “church for people who don’t go to church” either, even if that church wasn’t big on preaching against sin.

      I think there’s more to it than not wanting to hear someone call them to repentance.

  14. Philippa

    In my experience, quite a few people who leave church and never come back have been deeply hurt by harsh and judgemental legalism, or lousy (i.e. non-existent) discipling. My younger sister’s faith was wrecked by the vicious words hurled about by church elders and those who should have known better during a particularly acrimonious church split in our little Brethren assembly (I was at university at the time). ‘If that’s how Christians behave,’ she said to my mother, ‘you can forget it.’

    People have been leaving the traditional church in Britain in droves over the past few decades.

    The churches that aregrowing here are non-traditional, charismatic, family orientated, youth-orientated, and have a good all-age mix. Our black churches are among the ones growing the most.

    Christians are hungry for authenticity and community. If the church lacks those virtues, people will walk out. They are too stressed out in today’s manic culture to settle for something that feels second-rate, mediocre, and insincere.

    I also know a number of Christians who are deeply unhappy in their churches. Fed up with a lack of meaty teaching, fed up with nobody listening to deep pastoral struggles, fed up with feeling marginalised.

    Yes, there are shallow church-hoppers around. But the people I have in mind here are sincere Christians who have been hurt by the church.

      • Philippa

        Dan, indeed.

        Of course we should all remember that church does not exist to meet all of our needs all of the time. Of course we should be giving and serving as well as receiving. But I think it is reasonable – and biblical – to expect that an authentic Christian community would be meeting SOME of its peoples’ deep pastoral needs. And of course it should be feeding them biblically.

  15. Ruth

    Gee. People don’t come to church because it’s their fault. -_-

    No, I think it’s simplistic to point the finger at people and say that it’s because they don’t want to hear about sin or because they do not desire God and that’s the reason why.

    I think it’s a mixture of reasons. The reason above is possible for some, but I think many turn away from churches because of bad experiences in church as well. It took a supreme act of will and determination for me to return to church, and till this day, to be honest, I’m still a lousy churchgoer. I have not attended church for two months. 😉 Not that I don’t find my church ‘entertaining’ or ‘fun’ enough, but because I have lots of commitments and also because I find it difficult to go because it’s so far.

    I really relate to what Jeff said about going to church on Sunday to clap your hands, sing and hear someone talk. I too find it so irrelevant, and I find it very difficult to motivate myself to go to something which I can’t seem to relate to. Something is missing … not sure what.

    Well, I’m just saying that blaming the non-churchgoer for not attending is not exactly the greatest thing to do. Saying things like “you don’t desire God enough” is just off-putting. Statements like that just make the non-churchgoer even more determined NOT to attend church so to avoid people who say these things.

  16. There have already been several good comments here, so I’m not sure how much, if anything, I can add.

    I agree with those who feel like there is a mixture of factors involved. I also agree that it’s a bit too simplistic to say that those who don’t “attend church” are the problem themselves.

    Someone said that leaders stay “in the way” and that people never really learn what ministry is, and Dan responded by saying that when the leaders get out of the way, the people just sit there. In my experience, I have never seen leaders truly “get out of the way”. Many times, it is preached from the pulpit that everyone needs to be ministering, but this usually boils down to filling holes in the system itself. In other words, when I have heard leaders preach about member ministry, it’s because they need more Sunday School teachers, or someone to help maintain the physical facilities, or someone to….what I’m getting at is that the focus feels like it is always on keeping the machine rolling so that we can attract more people in.

    There really is a sense in which the system we have actually does get in the way. Leaders can’t really “step out of the way” in the system, because if they truly did, there would be no need to pay them a full-time salary. It is a conflict of interest for a professional clergy member to try to nurture a body of active ministers, unless he wants to work himself out of a job.

    Finally, one brief comment about the original question itself. If Barna is right, people are not “staying home on Sunday” because they are not interested in church. Many of us meet in other ways at other times, but if you ask me “Do you go to church?” it’s not a simple “yes/no” answer. Unfortunately, polls usually look for simple answers.

    Do I attend church? No. Do I go to church on Sunday morning? No. Is there a building that I can point to and say, “That’s my church”? No. Am I part of the Body of Christ, growing in my relationship with Him and with others, living out the commands of Jesus in relation to others, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, but spurring one another on to love and good deeds, teaching and being taught by others, etc. etc. etc.? Absolutely YES.

    steve 🙂

  17. Steve,

    I think there’s a need to fill those “system” positions. Sunday School teachers ARE needed if the church has part of its educational system setup that way. We do need to make disciples!

    Most of the churches I’ve been a part of the last twenty years have been staffed by leaders who truly did want to get out of the way and let their people minister. The problem was that the people didn’t want to minister all that much. Part of that problem is the clock-driven culture we live in and the fact that most people are running around like crazy. But there’s a deeper problem there than just frantic people.

    Since you aren’t apart of a local worshiping body in the traditional sense, how are you fulfilling meeting together, teaching and being taught, etc.?

    • Sorry I’m just now gettng to respond, Dan. I agree that the positions in the “system” need to be filled, but I see that sometimes as the extent to which leaders think that they need to talk about everybody ministering. In other words, it feels self-serving to me.

      I don’t doubt that our experiences might be very different, so I don’t want to appear to be questioning what you say you have seen in your past experiences.

      In answer to your question, there is a community of believers here in our town who meet from house to house. I also have very close relationships with several of the men in that fellowship, and meet with them frequently over lunch or breakfast, or whatever.

      Our “simple church” gatherings are usually quite full of mutual ministry and several of us are constantly thinking out loud with each other of how to make that an even more frequent thing.

      You hit on something good with your comment about the clock-driven culture. Even those of us who desire to meet “daily from house to house” find that our cultural schedules often get in the way. We’re seeking ways to solve that problem.

      steve 🙂

  18. What keeps people away? (my short list)
    1. Bad previous experience
    2. Institutionalism
    3. People who take “that Jesus stuff” seriously
    4. Services too early Sunday morning
    5. Services on Sunday
    6. Services on weekends
    7. A general lack of willingness to commit to anything
    8. No real experience with the real Jesus Christ

    I could probably go on, but I think you get the picture.

    • Rev-Ed,

      You hit a lot of home runs with that list. I find it hard to argue with any of it, although I do think #3 can be overcome if the people who take “that Jesus stuff” seriously are also very loving and genuine.

      • Hi Dan and rev-ed,

        I know this will sound simplistic, but at the core, I think the reason a true Christian stays away from Church is because the Pastor DOESN’T take “that Jesus stuff seriously and the reason a non-believer would stay away from Church is because the Pastor DOES take “that Jesus stuff seriously.

        I live in California where my view of reality is sometimes distorted, but I can’t name a single Pastor I know who lives a “deny self : take up cross : follow Christ life. Pastors here drive newer cars than most of the congregation, live in bigger houses than most of the congregation, wear better clothes than most of the congregation, vacation better and more often than most of the congregation, etc. The servant leader is missing in Church and consequently, so are the Christians.

  19. Ruth

    Maybe it’s just me … but I kinda smell the scent of self-righteousness in some of these comments. -_-” Oh well, ignore me … it’s just probably me. 🙂

    Maybe because I’m not exactly a stellar church goer myself … so I feel kinda looked down upon and eventhough I agree with the “lack of commitment” that rev-ed pointed out (very true for my case), perhaps one of the right questions to ask is why are people unwilling to commit to anything?

    • Ruth,

      Any criticism can sound like self-righteousness if it exists in a vacuum. If we do something positive with our judgments, then I think self-righteousness fades away.

  20. Pingback: Journal of Ruth » Why do we stay away from church?
  21. Brian Pendell

    I have been an evangelical Christian and a churchgoer for more than thirty years, and I *HATE* church.

    Let me elaborate on some experiences since I’ve turned 18 —

    1) Big church with a “Crusade” vision. Praying every morning, up at 4:30 to pass out flyers. Much work and effort. Comes the big day, 400 people show up in a city of 100,000. Three days, and nothing.

    Next day we start up an even BIGGER crusade. I begin to wonder when I’m going to stop crusading and actually start learning something about this Christian walk. But no, it’s back out at o dark 30 to drop flyers on everyone’s doorstep. I tell the pastor I can’t keep this up. He tells me to “speak to my flesh”.

    I do. I say “goodbye”.

    2) Word of faith church, weird doctrine. Ran as fast as I could.

    3) Less weird church, but pastor was a one-man show with seeming toadies for elders. The vibes he and his family gave off were not healthy at all. Saw the train wreck coming, bailed.

    4) Settled in quiet Calvary Chapel until had to move to a new city. No complaints here.

    5) New church is a charismatic church, seems pretty sane.
    However, after two years I give up. Every single sermon is on “receiving God’s blessing” and “receiving God’s healing”. All good, as far as it goes, but isn’t there more to the walk than this? There has to be. The pastor wants his 50 person church to grow to 1100. I don’t see how this is possible and ask how he expects this to happen? “God told me it would happen”.

    Well, it didn’t. It’s been 8 years and the church is still the same size it always was. Word of Faith pastor comes in, the whole eldership except one goes over to him, I get invited to a “deliverance session” … good-bye.

    6) Next church is a mega-mega-mega church. Thousands of people. Building literally as big as a small stadium. Great programs, great teaching.

    And in three years there, I make exactly two friends. Meanwhile, rest of family is sinking even worse than I am. Regrettably take my leave.

    7) Small baptist church. It does well, but then the pastor we had leaves and the new guy buys into purpose-driven life in a big way. The homey atmosphere goes, replaced by a continued drive for Growth and More Growth. It turns into a small carbon-copy clone of the Big Church we just left … it has all the impersonality of the big church, but none of it’s numbers.

    So … do you see why I hate church? I can understand one bad experience, but I have had repeated bad experience at multiple churches, for TWELVE YEARS.

    So why am I still going? Because I take seriously the command not to “forsake the assembly”. I get up and go to church (though not every single Sunday, but multiple times a month) not because I like it … in fact there’s almost anything else I’d rather be doing, including the dentist … but because I believe obedience is important.

    Things I see about American church:

    1) Utter lack of any real spiritual life, both personal and corporate.Many of the churches I was in had no prayer at all, or a 5 to ten minute session on Wednesday night . Vanishingly small compared to their other programs.

    I want relationship with Jesus Christ, both personal AND corporate. It seems to me that most churches lack prayer (or if they do pray, those prayers are all of the “give me” variety), and because of this they have little connection to the Head.

    2) Lack of discipleship. In half of the churches I described, and all of the charismatic ones, discipleship was distinctly lacking, being sacrificed on the altar of Church Growth. Lots of desire to bring in new babies, little concern with the Christian life .. and such as there were was either twisted a la word of faith or very skewed, a la 30 consecutive sermons on “receiving your healing”.

    3) Over-emphasis on programs and things. Too many Christians seem to have forgotten that Jesus spent most of his time equipping disciples — really just 12 of them — and none at all on the building they met in. IIRC, they didn’t have a building, and Jesus dismissed the Jewish Temple in two lines .. . “Do you see these stones? Not one will be left on top of the other”. Today, it seems that every church wants to be the Temple with a beautiful building and thousands of worshippers … forgetting the fate of the original.

    I can sum up the problem in one line: Worldiness resulting from prosperity. I don’t mean “worldliness” in the sense of dancing or what one drinks or what one wears .. I’m speaking of worldly attitudes in which people focus on the visible things of the here and now, rather than the invisible things — and the people! — that really count for eternity.

    Give me fewer programs and less marketing. Give me more prayer — REAL prayer, not just “heal so and so of her cancer” — and real discipleship.

    Fortunately, this story does have a happy ending.
    The last time I left a church, I prayed, looked at several house churches which had their own problems before settling in a church with a pastor who is reacting much the same way I am. Happy there for now. But even if — perhaps I should say when — this church succumbs to the same poison all the other ones do, I’m not going to quit. I will simply up stakes with my family and see if I can find another which I will also ride … for a season … until that one falls apart too.

    Bottom line: The American church is a very sick place. This is why Emergent and house churches are all the rage … because regular churches have succumbed to a number of problems, with the underlying theme being worldliness brought on by generations of prosperity. House churches first occurred in communist countries because the “official” churches were corrupt. House churches are springing up here not because the government is corrupting us … we’re managing to corrupt ourselves!

    Doesn’t mean that house churches are perfect. They aren’t. Doesn’t mean that all regular churches are tools of Satan. They are not. There are some very good ones. I’m in one. But the disease and the trend are undeniable.


    Brian P.

    • Brian,

      Your comment is both helpful and cautionary. I know every one of the churches you describe, and I can see how you would run. You’re right; there are a lot of problematic churches out there. We also gave up ourselves before we found the church we’re in now, one with great fellowship and an atmosphere of growth.

      Thanks for sharing. I’m sure many people will nod reading your experiences.

  22. Ruth

    Hey Dan,
    This is a nifty wp plugin! Where did you get it? 😉

    Anyway, sorry if I sound petulant. I know I didn’t phrase it quite well – I was typing it in the sly at work 😛 But yeah, I get what you mean.

  23. Jonathan Castro

    I left church a year ago, after having a breakdown. I spent the first 30 years of my life in countless churches and never found Christ. I intend to spent the rest of my life destroying the church. When the church has been wiped off the face of the earth – that will be paradise.

    • Jonathan,

      I’m truly sorry that the Church has treated you so badly. Jesus Christ is the Lord of All. If you could not find Him in the UK, that speaks more to the sorry state of churches in the UK than to the reality of His Lordship.

      I fear that trying to wipe the Church off the face of the planet will result in the loss of a great deal of art, music, and literature, as much of it was created by Christians. You’ll also see most of the charitable organizations in the world vanish and along with them a great many of the people feeding the poor and lobbying for the disenfranchised in the world, countereffective to the paradise you hope to create. Most of the hospitals will disappear and all the many medical devices created by Christians. In fact, large swaths of the sciences will no longer exist. In fact, wiping the Church from the face of the planet will erase most of civilization as we know it, leaving instead a barbarous world that bears no resemblance at all to paradise.

      I know you know this to be true.

      I pray that you’ll find real Christians in the UK. I know they exist; I’ve met some.


  24. Hey Dan – Was down in your neck of the state for a reunion of my old campus ministry. Good times.

    Anyway, I was getting directions home and the freinds we had lunch with said “Oh, and look for the ‘Churhc for people who don’t like Church’ sign” Sure enough, there it was as we zipped down that highway.

    I thought of you as I passed that church.

  25. William

    That last paragraph Jeff is pretty much the whole of it. Those outside of the church do not see the “real life” that we have as followers of Christ. By chance have you ever read “Dangerous Wonder” by Mike Yaconelli?

  26. Cherryl

    You do not have to go to church to have a relationship with God; nor are you considered spiritually dead if you do not go to church. Personally, I would rather read the bible myself and make my own mind up about what it says then, listen to a preacher tell me what the church’s views are about the bible. Also, the main problem I have with church is how different they interpret the bible. We are all children of God but, we spend so much more time separating ourselves from each other in the name of our own religious denomination.

    • Francisco

      There are ocassions when ‘holding fast to the faith delivered once for all to the saints’ has led to big events like the Reformation. In other ocassions it well migtht be pride that explains that. And most likely if you do what you plan to do, you well might end up creating your own denomination: The “It’s all about having fellowship with me, myself and I”

  27. Erin

    My experience has been that in the church, lack of true friendship. It is irritating and hurtful to me to receive phone calls from people trying to get me to come to church when I’m not there, yet these same people wouldn’t call me to grab a cup of coffee, or to go to a movie, or to go out to dinner.
    The lack of community is disappointing. It is totally unlike the experience of the early Christians, who “ate together, and had everything in common.” I’m not for shared living arrangements or anything like that, but feeling totally unknown in my own church is very lonely.
    Not only that, but being a loyal attender, and constantly hearing sermons about how we “need to get right with God”, need to live right, etc…..no matter how much we try, we will never be perfect – that’s why we have accepted God’s grace.
    It seems like many churches aren’t t actively reaching people in their point of need – they are just waiting people to find them. No wonder the pews are emptying. It is very sad.

  28. Ben

    I have not read all of the other comments so if I repeat things that have been said already I am sorry.
    I think people shy away from church because they don’t want to feel like they are being judged. You walk in the church doorway, a place that should be welcoming and warm, and all you see is pretension and judgment. You feel as if you have been weighed and measured the second you walk in the door. George Carlin the comedian said something that has stuck with me since I first heard it. (I am paraphrasing here) “I don’t need to go somewhere to compare clothing That is what church seems like a lot of the time.

  29. Jeff

    All of the comments have been very enlightening and I want to thank everyone for their candor. As a young pastor in a new church it pains me to hear what many are saying, but I believe it is an honest commentary.

    What I am reading says that there is a perception – whether real or imagined – of a real lack of authenticity in the modern American church. By that, I mean that many are creating an environment where hypocrisy is seen by those both inside and outside the church. Mark Hall, the lead singer of the group “Casting Crowns” put it this way. He said, “I don’t believe it offends the world as much when we sin, as it does when we act like we don’t.” While the world may not agree with everything we believe, I think it is important that they see us as real and authentic in those beliefs and not as a group of “holier-than-thou” Christians with no heart for their spiritual lives.

    I have taken what each person has said to heart. Thank you.

  30. tyler

    i understand many of these criticisms, i agree that they are even (for the most part) correct. my question however is at what point do we blame people or culture or the world? i kno i sound like the 50 y/o close-minded, fundamental, bigot but i believe that light has come into the world but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. everyone who does evil evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. but whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God, (John 3:19-21). i know i’m part of the reason people don’t come to church because i believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he came to reveal to us who God is, how God wants us to live, to punish our sin in himself by dying on the cross, by conqueroring our flesh and the curse of death through his resurrection–if others don’t believe that they will see this as foolish, they will misinterpret it every time. my hope is that we all continue to be faithful to preach this offensive and foolish message and that God’s spirit would continue to live in us and through us for God’s glory that we may indeed live transformed lives and that others may also be transformed by this grace of our Lord Jesus.

  31. phil

    Recently I decided to investigate reasons for people not going to church, thinking I could better prepare myself to understand the lost and be wise in how I talk with them. Then I found this site which has been great. Nothing really new, mainly confirming my thoughts. An indian pastor recently said that what is missing in the west in conviction. Are my convictions strong enough for me to suffer for Jesus? Will I go put my life on the line? my comfort aside to see people freed from a place called Hell. I have spent enough time complaining, grumbling, relaxing, blaming and enjoying life. Personally I love all the church – sometimes it can drive you crazy but so can my wife and teenagers! Mostly, my soul is blessed and encouraged, my walk is strengthened. The more I consider the lost, the more I realise that they just haven’t experienced the love of Jesus yet. Once they do, they won’t be able to get enough of Jesus. So what’s the answer – Conviction! I will uncover everything that hinders others, I will desperatly seek to save the lost every day. A day wasted may be a soul missed. Think outside the square Bill Hybels did and transormed only God knows how many lives

  32. With all this talk about the church and its failings it would be good to remember that the church is us.

    Because that is true, to a disaffected believer I would say (at the risk of seeming trite) that church is what we make it. Not enough fellowship or friendship for you? Extend some friendship to those wandering souls who come through every church and leave again. Poor/absent teaching? Study the Word yourself – but you don’t have to leave church to do it.

    I think of church as being more like a potluck than a feeding trough. Any believer who diligently cultivates their walk with Christ during the week will bring something to church which will benefit other believers – and will usually bring something away for their own nourishment. Not every church attender does that, but every church has some who do at least to some extent and they are generally those who provide what life there is in it.

    My rule of thumb is, pick a church (almost any church) and then make sure that you are one of those people.

    • JustSomeLady

      This is something that has been a standard Grade A church answer to just about every question or criticism that ever occurs. “If someone is not happy here like the rest of us, then they must be doing something wrong.” The piousness of this attitude becomes nearly caustic to those who have been labouring and struggling earnestly with this issue probably for quite some time before finding the courage to bring it to light. The very idea that someone may not like church is seen as some sort of undue criticism of the church when that is rarely the case. There are people who don’t enjoy outdoor eating but that is not a criticism of the food, the company or a sign of a poor appetite.

      • JustSomeLady,

        My own experience is this: In some churches, a person makes an effort and gets no response. That does happen. However, I would say that it is even more common for someone to walk into a church, make no effort, and then blame the church.

        I have seen and experienced both. But given that ours is a “Feed Me!” culture, I think the error is more often the “no effort” one.

  33. In my comment above, I said,

    Not every church attender does that, but every church has some who do at least to some extent…..

    to which I would add,

    and if one of them is the pastor, then it’s bonus!”

  34. Michael

    I have been thinking about this subject a lot recently as a minister, and I’ve come to a few conclusions myself:

    1. Churches that are open about sin and struggles always connect with people (at least, people who are seeking God), if they are honest and real and offer hope. It has to be more than the preacher, but the preacher is a very good start.

    2. The minister needs to deliver the gospel lived, in his interaction with the members, the community, and the visitors. Members must also reach out to their neighbors, friends, and family and share their lives in Christ. They have to love them first, it cannot be “come to church and hear my preacher!” It must be sincere and for the benefit of the hearer, not to increase church attendance. Elders of the church must be real shepherds, caring for the spiritual needs of those who suffer and being in a position of compassionate guidance, not heavy-handed rule.

    3. The congregation cannot “play” church. They must operate outside the walls of the church, loving the poor and those in need, helping the helpless, and doing all in the name of Jesus. They must be the hands and feet and heart of Jesus in all they do outside of the church first, and the inside will flourish. Also, church members should love the lost, inviting them into their homes and into their lives first, and never trying to guilt them or push them into the building. Instead, they must establish a real relationships with people who need Christ and pray for and seek an opportunity to open up the possibility of a Bible study.

    4. The church should love God’s word, be passionate about it and willing to live by it faithfully. The preacher should never be the only one that knows scripture. From the youngest to the oldest, all should be students of God’s word and more than students, disciples of Christ. The word and the word alone should be preached or taught, without the drivel that often comes out that people think others want to hear. Let the word speak to relevant topics and struggles people go through, for in the word is true power and transformational language.

    5. Finally, the church must not be a meeting place, but a family of people who love each other and are patient with one another, realizing that all of us struggle with sin and that there is no perfect church. Leaders should be one with the congregation, and all should be one with Christ. Only then will people want to “go to church.”

    • Michael,

      I would add that the pastor must be considered part of the congregational body (rather than a “set apart one”) for any of what you wrote concerning the pastor will work. At too many churches, this is not the case, especially if the pastor was hired from the outside rather than grown up from within the church itself.

      I would ask: How do you motivate a congregation to do genuine church work when most people are increasingly fighting just to keep their jobs (which usually means longer hours and less time for extracurriculars)?

    • JustSomeLady

      I’m afraid even if all of these things were in place you would not be able to appeal to all. Not liking church is might not necessarily be in so much as it may be a Meyers/Briggs Personality type issue. You just can’t be all things to all people. Somebody is alwasy goitn to be left out no matter how on point a church service is. All things are possible with God I know but God did not design us all to be the same or respond positively to the same kinds of stimuli. What one finds dynamic another finds noisy and over dramatic. Myself I respond much better in prayer services because they are more interactive. Church services leave me anxious and wrestless. I find it hard to concentrate on the Pastor’s sermon and my mind tends to wander or dwell on a particular point the Pastor made and get completely lost in thought over it, missing the sermon almost entirely. My response is not a judgement call as to his skill or the message content. Most people function perfectly fine in this service. I just don’t function well under this kind of formula. I continued going simply because I felt it was my duty but Sunday services increasingly became a tedious chore. My life is filled with chores and eventually I felt it would be best for my overall mental health to take a break that has been permanent. Seriously, if I found a church that operasted in a way that I can respond to I woud be delighted to go. In this instance however one just simply can’t add themselves and influence things to their liking or make the church experience in to what they want it to be. It is what it is.

  35. Michael

    When it comes to the minister, I can say from personal experience that the minister must be a servant to all first and foremost, and also a part of the body. The minister, like every other member, serves a vital role, and should be loved, appreciated, and encouraged like all else. For a minister to be effective, the body cannot consider him an outsider. To do so is to shun him from true agape love. I agree with you wholeheartedly Dan.

    Also, the jobs and schedules that people struggle with is all the more reason for them to have a Christian family that can pray for them, support them, and love them. It is when we learn to show Christ within our lives and not apart from them (in our jobs, family time, etc.) that being a Christian does not have to compete with other things. What happens is that people struggle to trust in the Lord to help them finiancially or find a job where they can commit more to God, so they put church off (and as a consequence struggle spiritually without the support of a Christian family). I know that sounds preachy coming from a preacher, but I’ve always found in my life the words of Abraham ring true: The Lord will provide.

    And yes, even with all the right elements, so to speak, in place some people will not feel spiritually full when they attend worship. That is why we come together for worship to celebrate what God is doing in our lives daily, not to get a spiritual meal. Our meal is to do the will of God, and the worship we do is to come and celebrate that life. We don’t come together for someone to give us something, we come to bring something. But for the struggling or for the person that doesn’t fit into a congregation (and most people find those moments in life), don’t give up on the Lord’s body. Be patient and trust in the Lord, and he will provide a way. He always does. And remember that it is the heart that worships, and people need to see the fruit of your heart. That is our call as children of God.

  36. Rusty

    I used to go to church about ten years ago. I think the reason that I don’t go anymore now is when I’ve been to church I would not get any thing out of it.So what is the real reason to be there.God can be worship 24/7 anywhere.
    I think it is to make a righteous card on our self that most people go to church.I wish to know your views. Rusty

  37. Tracie from NC

    Hi, I was raised in a Weslyan Church in a small town. I had a very confusing childhood, I even lived with my preacher at one point in time. I would say I have experienced and endured alot in my 28 years. I believe in God and Jesus christ and I have been in and out of several churches as I’ve gotten older. I have 3 children, I work full time and I go to school. To take the time to attend church is almost like a chore for me. I think it is important for me to take my children and let them learn. But I dont get excited to go to church anymore. I would love to find a church that would make me stand out if I didnt feel like dressing up one day, that wouldnt all turn to stare if I came in late, and left the offering plate in a private location so that whenever you give it can be between God and I, instead of the Whole congregation and I. I’ve tried many differnt religions and differnt churches. I am aware to the fact that no one is perfect and people will judge people. But I’ve heard so many bible lessons, sermons, and spent so much time watching the history channel that I am being to wonder if everything I’ve been told was even the truth. I feel that so many people have changed the actuall scriptures to what they believe that we dont know what to believe anymore. My children mean the world to me and I want them to learn about their purpose for life, but I dont want them to be brain washed. I feel that in this day in time people are too over protective of their children and should be more honest and straight forward with them. Instead of putting up a barrier of sweetness and assurance that world is so kind. Because its not, and I think it is important that we teach our children to be more responsible for their actions. So many people take for granted what someone else would be thankful for.

    • Tracie,

      I will be writing about this dilemma soon in a new post on Cerulean Sanctum.

      I understand where you are coming from. Churches that fail to live up to a high calling can tear people down (at the worst), leave them confused, or trap them in a sort of middling existence that never breaks through to glory.

      Here’s the answer: Stick with Jesus. Stay focused on Him. Let go of the silliness that some churches engage in and let yourself float above it. Be the person God called you to be and don’t let people try to automatically press you into a mold. When you’re closer to the Lord, you’ll know which “pressing” is good and which isn’t.

      In other words, let go of religion. What works are the simplest aspects of following Jesus. Ask these questions of yourself daily: Do I love God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit? Am I loving toward the people I encounter daily, even strangers? Am I using the gifts God has given me to the best of my ability? Am I grateful for those gifts? Am I thankful for Jesus, for what He has done for me, and for what He has given me? Is His love for me making me more humble? Do I have a heart of compassion for lost and hurting people? When I break God’s heart, is mine broken as well?

      I think those questions go straight to the core of what it means to be a Christian. It’s not hard to follow the Lord, but we make it so because we like systems and rules and all the trappings of being “upright, religious people.” But those trappings lead us away from the truth.

      Anymore, the truth I keep coming back to about churches is this: If a church keeps its focus on Jesus and is filled with people who genuinely love you and your family for who you are, warts and all, that church’s other lacks will probably not amount to much in the grand scheme of things. Nothing replaces loving people. A church can have airtight doctrine, a beautiful campus, a thousand classes, and on and on, but if no one cares if you are there or not, it all amounts to so much wind. I’ve found that you can fix almost anything in a church, but if the people don’t love and care for each other, then that church is a total loss—find another church.

      I want to add one more thing. Some people will never be happy, no matter what church they attend. I see these people drift from church to church, always leaving for what they think are greener pastures. The problem is not the church, though, but their own hearts. In almost every case, it’s the sin of pride and self-centeredness. It’s epidemic. The only thing that will fix those folks is getting a revelation of Jesus that exposes their sin and leads them to repentance.

      That doesn’t sound like you. You’ll need to make that assessment of yourself before the Lord, though. You sound more like the person who has encountered a few toxic churches and they’ve left you wondering if ALL churches are that way. My word to you is this: No, they aren’t all that way. Good ones are out there. Keep your eyes open to people you encounter daily who are filled with love and joy and who show that love and joy to others. Ask them where they go to church. If you keep hearing a church named over and over that way, check it out.

      If this helps, let me know. Email me if you need to talk more about this.

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