I received yet another email this past week pointing out the mounting statistics that show church attendance continues to slip. This particular email pointed out that more than 65% of people in my home county claim an affinity to “the church” (adherents), that 46% of those interviewed claim membership to a particular church but less than 20% actually go to church. As I pondered those numbers three questions came to mind.
What have we “the church” done to drive people away?
What has the world done to draw people away?
What do we do to overcome points one and two above in order to welcome people back?
While I don’t want to over simplify the issue, it seems the gap continues to grow between those who understand “church” and those who don’t. It is becoming more complicated all the time; we “the church” have developed our own language, social norms, and even dress code for almost every different church in town. In fact it took me a while to understand the email I received, as I had to look up the term “adherents”.
Adherent-(ad·her·ent adˈhi(ə)rənt,-ˈher-/noun) plural noun: adherents
- someone who supports a particular party, person, or set of ideas
I can only imagine how off putting it must seem to someone who has no knowledge or association with what “the church” is or is supposed to be. And, for the record, that now amounts to more than half the country if the statistics are correct.
Jeff Christopherson, in his recent book “The Kingdom Matrix” puts it like this:
“The essential distinguishing issue in this new evangelical culture is not the character of our hearts, but the vocabulary of our expression. Our subculture has developed universally understood code words that offer indisputable evidence of our club status….. They are found in our evangelical glossaries and come glibly off our lips; fellowship, brother, born-again, and membership indicate our club-status within the subculture.”
It seems to me we need to make “the church” more accessible. When did it become important for religion to become complicated? My Bible clearly shows that Jesus spoke plain language and a good bit of his talking was done with folks who did not have a grasp on what the “the church” was all about.
Perhaps a simpler approach is in order.
“Come as you are”—With what you know, how you are dressed, without all the answers, without all the lingo. Come because we care about you, come learn about the One who created you and loves you, come because you are valuable, come because you are going to be met just where you are–and helped to take the next step. Come to a place that is not perfect and wants imperfect people. Come!
I shared these thoughts with a friend of mine. Bob knows a lot about the church, about Jesus, and thankfully, a lot about me. He has attended seminary, preached a lot and has written forty or fifty some publications regarding Jesus and his teachings. His message back confirmed my thoughts-but he also says so much more.
David, what you described is The Gospel. It’s The Message about Jesus. He’s The Sent One who dwelt among us and was full of grace and truth. When we neglect teaching EVERYTHING He commanded, we neglect Him and His Message, and we end up corrupting His Message. People do this, at least initially, without intentionally meaning to. We make it about conforming to OUR image and OUR likeness, or, as Paul said, we hold on to “a righteousness of our OWN that’s derived from The Law.” It’s a poor likeness, but close enough to trick immature or unadvised people. But instead of glorifying God, it insults and demeans His Name.
Just as I expected he would, Bob spoke right to my heart. Powerful words, words to remind me and to help center me…words of encouragement, and words admonishing me to continue the good work placed before me.
And maybe they are words of encouragement for you too.