church shopping

Why Doesn't My Neighbor Go to Church?

Why Doesn't My Neighbor Go to Church?

There was a time when going to church is what respectable people did. Two generations ago, every self-respecting citizen went to church, regardless of their desire to be there or not. When I was in middle school our family became acquaintances with someone at church. My parents ended up doing business with him only to learn later that he was far from ethical in his business dealings. Church, it turned out, was just a handy place for him to expand his business.

Long gone are the days of expected church attendance. And good riddance to them. I have no desire to have our society return to “the good old days” of church attendance insofar as that is merely moral behavior. What I long for are people to yearn for an encounter with a holy and loving God and to experience the warmth of God’s family.

A recent survey asked people why they do and don’t attend church. Those who attend cited reasons such as “to get closer to God,” “because I find the sermons valuable,” and “to be part of a faith community” as some of their answers. Those who don’t attend listed these as their top reasons for not attending:

1.       I practice my faith in other ways

2.       I am not a believer

3.       I haven’t found a church I like

4.       I don’t like the sermons

5.       I don’t feel welcome

That’s a helpful glimpse into the heart of the non-church attender. You might notice that four of the five reasons don’t have anything to do with their beliefs. That means that the most significant objection you might fear from your neighbor (disagreeing with your faith) is unlikely to be the main reason they aren’t attending.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       Church Hunters: Jon Crist's mockumentary skewers church shopping with a smile.

2.       What If I Can't Find the Perfect Church? Josh Buice shares why "Nonattendance was not an option for the early church and it shouldn’t be an option for the modern church."

3.       The Challenge of Really Loving Your Church: Jonathan LaBarge offers not-so-easy wisdom: "Father Cyprian wrote, “No one can have God for his Father, who does not have the Church for his mother.” There will be many times when we will have to say to the church, “I do not much like you right now, but I do love you.”"

4.       Diagnosing and Mortifying the Sin of Complaining: Geoffrey Kirkland reflects, "Everyone does it. It’s all around us. In fact, it’s so normalized and pervasive that we hardly even recognize when it actually occurs. The sin of complaining is one of those “respectable sins.” That is, it’s one that’s hardly spoken about, seldom preached against, and still less frequent, a sin with which Christians persistently wage violent war. Complaining is ugly. Complaining is one of the most commonest and frequent sins that’s almost as easy to find and common as the air we breathe."

5.       How We Spend Our Days: How the average American adult spends their days. An infographic. Lots of fascinating gems in here: religious and spiritual activities are doubled by shopping which itself is doubled by personal care. 

6 Ways a Leader Needs to Respond to a Departing Congregant

6 Ways a Leader Needs to Respond to a Departing Congregant

I sat across the room from the couple, trying to slow down my mind and open my heart to the criticism they were leveling at me. They had been offended by my sermon and had reacted on Facebook, indicating they were leaving the church. I reached out privately and asked if we could meet to talk. They agreed to do so. When we met, he was relatively calm, but she was very upset and I knew that I needed to hold my own emotions in check to be able to listen to the heart of what she was saying and respond in love, not hurt. As I had prayed to prepare for the meeting I genuinely didn’t think I was going to be able to ask for forgiveness for anything as I didn’t think I had done anything wrong. But in the midst of the meeting God opened my heart to see an area of blindness. I was able to ask and receive their forgiveness for the way this blind spot had injured them. I then asked if they would be willing to ask for forgiveness for their slander. They were willing to do so and I forgave them.

These are not the meetings that you think about when you sign up to be a pastor or leader, but there are few moments more important in your ministry than these tense conversations.

Two friends have responded to my series on leaving and finding a church with questions about a pastor’s responsibility in the midst of church departures. It’s a fair and helpful question. Over the course of this series I’ve reflected on a congregant’s responsibility, but pastors and leaders bear a responsibility to help congregants navigate departures well.

5 Ways to Make a Church Home

5 Ways to Make a Church Home

When I graduated with my BA in Biblical-Theological studies and came back across the country to marry my bride, I entered our new church like a bull in a china shop. I wanted to get my hands into ministry as quickly as I could and sit under a mentor as soon as possible. I reached out to the pastoral staff and tried to jump in as quickly as I could into various ministry roles and getting mentored. There were lots of good things about our experience at that church, but when we left two and a half years later for seminary, I was largely disappointed with the ministry opportunities that had been available to me and the pastoral mentoring I had received. Some of the blame for my experience falls on the church leadership. But plenty falls on myself.  

Many can identify with disappointment in a church. Many of you have been at a church for years without feeling a significant level of connection and belonging.

There are absolutely ways in which churches need to improve in helping newcomers feel at home quickly and well, but there are lots of things I would tell my 21 year old self about how to join a church and what expectations to have.

4 Questions to Ask When You Church Shop

4 Questions to Ask When You Church Shop

After Angel and I were married, we moved to a town new to both of us: Phoenix. Thus began a several month journey of finding a church that would be repeated again in two and a half years when we moved to New Jersey. I have vivid memories of both church shopping experiences: of the sweet little Anglican church in Phoenix where we were the youngest in attendance by at least four decades and mobbed afterwards by kindly congregants who begged us to stay for coffee and cookies; of the 1,000 square foot church on the Jersey shore where we and our friends doubled the size of the congregation and the accompaniment was played by means of a 1980s style boom box which the pastor turned around to push the button at the beginning and end of every song.

It wasn’t long ago that the idea of having more than one church in your lifetime would have been completely foreign. Virtually the entire world died where they were born and rarely left their hometown.[i] In contrast, the average US citizen today is expected to move 11.4 times in his or her lifetime.[ii] Even if you never leave a church for another reason, you will most likely look for a church ten times in your life.

Consumers at Church, part II

Consumers at Church, part II

We’ve been discussing the impact of the water we swim in in 21st century America – consumerism—on our spiritual lives. Last week I took a look at how unique our situation is in the context of 2,000 years of church history. The notion that you have any decision to make on the church you attend would be a completely foreign idea to the experience of two millennia of Christians around the globe.

The point of such an observation isn’t to shame our current context or even lament the fragmentation of the church (those would be discussions for another day). Rather it helps us see the strangeness of the reality that, for most contemporary American Christians, there is a lengthy period of shopping for a church that happens when one moves or, for most, if anything happens within their church context that upsets or unsettles them. The days of being buried in the church where you were baptized and married are long gone for most.