“Almost half of churchgoing Americans say their life has not changed a bit due to their time in the pews”
“Three out of five church attenders said they could not recall an important new religious insight from their last church visit.”
“Millions of active participants find their church experiences to be lacking”
This Huffington Post article can be summarized in one sentence: church is useless. Apparently, a Barna Group survey shows that half of church attenders report that they are not impacted by their church experience. And, the article suggests pastors should be appalled at these findings.
AAAHHH!!! After reading those ‘facts’, how could you not want to scream? Or at least be irritated enough to ponder how something as transformational as faith doesn’t seem to be changing the lives of those participating in it? So who exactly is to blame for the frustrating statistics?
1) The Barna Group [and/or the Huffington Post]
I know that I shouldn’t shoot the messenger. However, I find it difficult to believe that statisticians -especially Christians specializing in ministry statistics- could create a survey that’s results included the fact that “Churchgoing has no effect on 50% of Americans”. Either the Huffington Post has horrible reporting, or this survey had horribly constructed questions.
How do you define change? Good polling questions have specific answers that make analysis possible without leading polltakers to particular conclusions. What was the question that produced this statistic? I’d really like to know because I find it impossible to believe that an activity that comprises at least an hour of someone’s week and involves interactions with other humans has no effect on someone’s life whatsoever.
Even if they sit in a pew bored out of their mind and do not relate to or retain any of the experience, that experience still impacted them in some way. Only a delusional understanding of the world and a bad hermeneutic could lead someone to truly believe that how they spend their time has no effect on their life. [Yes, I'm arguing semantics and methods, but they are so important!]
2) The Survey Takers-
If you truly belief that church has no effect on your life, I’d really like to ask you a few questions. Do you consider yourself Christian? If so, why do you embrace that label? If you believe that Jesus loves you, I’m assuming your life has been changed in some way by His presence?
Perhaps you go to church because you like the music or because you like the people or because you feel like you have to go. That’s totally cool, but I should warn you: God is kind of in the life transformation business. It’s impossible to encounter Him and walk away unchanged.
If you already know this, why do you find church useless? The teaching isn’t interesting enough? The community seems hypocritical? Your pastors aren’t making enough of a difference in your community? Mr. Survey-taker, I hate to break this to you, but the Church is the body of Christ. If you believe in Jesus, you are part of the Church. Church isn’t an entertainment industry devoted to making you have weekly “uh huh” moments and warm fuzzy feelings. Perhaps you find the Church useless because you have yet to consider yourself are a part of it. May I suggest trying to become some of the changes you would like to see? For example, if you find the sermons boring, maybe you could volunteer to help lead a more interesting Bible study? If your experience in a community of believers hasn’t changed you, perhaps it’s because you’ve refused to let it.
3) Ministry Folk-
I’m kind of angry that this article seems to blame you for the perceived uselessness of churches. I’m sorry for that. I know that you try really hard to serve God and to create a setting in which people can appreciate their church experience. I thank you for that, but I need to acknowledge that you impact this statistic too.
If you make the Gospel boring, you need to do something differently. The good news is not boring! It’s exciting! God is restoring the world and we get to be a part of it! It sucks at times, but overall the message is really good and should not put people to sleep every week.
And please, stop trying to make Church a great experience. It’s not an experience; it’s a community. Commit yourself to loving God and loving people. Share the truth. Welcome people. Allow people to play a role in your community. Be open to new ideas. Foster continued maturity. Encourage people to do life together outside of the Sunday service. And, remember that it’s okay to brag about how God is working within your community. Forget about increasing the numbers of satisfied attenders and focus on being a good steward of the resources and influence God gave you. If you invite the Holy Spirit into your gatherings, He will continue to transform people’s lives.
4) Me, Myself, and I –
Secretly, I take pleasure in these statistics. I like seeing that the Church is falling. I like ‘facts’ that confirm what I already know. I’ve been put to sleep by those boring pastors and I’ve ranted about not getting anything useful out of the sermons. In a sick twisted way, I’m glad that someone sees my point.
I want a reason to be angry with the Church. I want to be able to explain why this community isn’t as fantastic as it could be. I want to be able to blame the lack of change in my own life on my surroundings. I’m a hypocrite because everyone else is a hypocrite. I’m reluctant because everyone else is reluctant. I’ll be more radical when someone will be radical with me. I like these statistics because I like excuses and I like being able to declare that I am different than the status quo.
The truth is that I’m just as much to blame for the statistics as anyone else. I’ve refused to play my role in the community at times. I’ve forgotten the excitement of the Gospel. I’ve withheld the good news of Jesus’s love out of fear that people wouldn’t enjoy the hearing the truth. I’ve been exclusive and have chased people away with my Christianese . I’ve failed to build relationships with people sitting next to me in the pews. I’ve showed up grumpy to a worship service because I hadn’t slept the night before and forgot that worship was a joyful occasion not a chore. I’ve failed to allow my experience as part of the Church to continually change my life, and as a result I’ve hindered my ability to encourage others to embrace God’s transformation in their lives as well.
I’m part of the problem with Church in America. The good news is that I’m also a part of the solution. And, you can be too.
So, how do we respond to these statistics? How do we make sure that the Church takes her place as a catalyst for love, grace, and lasting change?