We know that for nearly every denomination, numbers are shrinking, folks in the pew are aging, and the most robustly growing group in the US are the unaffiliated (who are a mixture of anyone not part of a church, ranging from atheists to believers to Church-rejects).
Every church is worried about its future.
How timely then this article from The Lutheran:
Ask any group in your church: "Why do people not come to worship? What keeps people away from church?" You might hear:
• "We need a better youth program."
• "We have to have a different style of worship service."
• "We need to advertise."
• "If only we had a nursery for young children."
The rallying cries will begin. Usually they center around programs. If the church could just provide better programs, or more programs, people would begin to come back to church. Occasionally you will hear about preferences — about the time or worship style. Then there is the question of staff: those who think that if the right person were pastor, director of Christian education or worship director, people would come flooding through the doors.
These are the answers that church people give when they try to figure out why people don't go to church. Friends, we could not be more wrong.
I recently spent a week using social media to "listen" to people who do not go to church — listening to their explanations for why they stay away. I didn't argue with them. I didn't defend the church. I just listened. And what I heard broke my heart.Not a surprise, really, when you read in the polls that young people think "church" is about being anti-gay or judgmental, or the news reports from Minnesota of Roman Catholic parishes divided over their Prop8-style amendment, or the hate emails directed at a church for hosting an inter-faith event....
The No. 1 thing that keeps people away from the church is the people who are in the church.
It's not that people outside the church have low expectations of Christians. It's the opposite. They expect us to actually live out the things we proclaim on Sunday. They expect us to love our neighbor, care for the least of these and love our enemies.
We can change the time of our worship. We can change the style of our worship. We can buy full page ads in the newspaper. We can add programs for youth and families and elders and couples. None of it will matter. Not one bit.
It will not make a bit of difference until we begin to live out the things we proclaim on Sundays. The church won't grow until we learn to treat one another with love and respect at congregational and council meetings.
So if you aren't that sort of Christian, how do you tell people that? As one of the people I know asked, how do we tell people passing by what goes on behind the red door?