What’s going on in your community on Sunday mornings? On my way to church, I see lots of people out running or walking. Athletic fields are often bustling with young families. I imagine many people are still sleeping or enjoying a slower start to their day. For many others, it’s just another day at work. Regardless of what they’re up to, the majority of Americans are not in church. Why?
Some people link this trend to an increasing level of hostility toward Christianity, but I think the core issue is something different—apathy. Christian communities of faith just don’t seem to matter to most folks. Americans are still quite religious. Most believe in God, pray occasionally, and believe that the Bible is something more than just made-up stories. Most, however, still don’t join with others for worship.
In their book Churchless, George Barna and David Kinnaman point out that most of the ‘unchurched’ in the US are actually ‘de-churched.’ That is, they formerly had a connection with a church, but now they don’t. Some left church because of bad experiences. Many, however, dropped out or didn’t connect more deeply because they didn’t see the value of being part of the community. How do we shift this trend?
Like Barna and Kinnaman, I believe it all boils down to perceived value. People are stretched for time, but most people will make time for the things they consider important. For many Americans, church ranks below too many other good things they could be doing. To address this, churches need to offer people something they can’t get anywhere else—a deep encounter with God and a connection with Christ’s living community. Doing so doesn’t require fantastic programs or better coffee. Instead, churches need to get serious about being the Church. We need to be a place where others can experience God in our midst. We need to be a community that challenges us to be more Christ-like and supports us as we struggle to do so. We need to be a congregation that serves the wider community as a response to and as an expression of God’s own love for us. As we do so, our churches will become places of significance. When the churchless see God working through our churches, they will make time to be part of Christ’s living community.