Thoughts on life, leadership and the movement called the church by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why Churches are Dying

I had two very interesting conversations today.  I say 'interesting' because they came immediately after yesterday's timely topic at PCC, but were with people who aren't PCC'ers!  Neither of these folks has ever been to our church, but I know both of them from some other circles.  AND... they were completely independent of each other.  AND...both wanted to talk about why some churches grow and most don't.

One is a committed member of another church in the area.  He's a friend and we often talk, but not always about church.  He was shocked when I shared the statistics:  less than 1 in 5 Americans go to church today.  The number of people who don't to church grows by one million each year.  He asked, "Is that because people are less moral and don't want to hear the church's positions?" His question was honest.  He genuinely wanted to know why fewer and fewer people are going to church.

"Not really," I said.   People want to live good lives and do the right thing.  They are highly spiritual, and are generally open to God and the truth about Jesus. But they no longer see the church as a legitimate partner in their spiritual journey.  Why?

There are lots of reasons that people give.   If you ask someone why they don't go to church, they might say things like:

  • I don't have time to go to church, or 
  • Church is boring, or 
  • All the church wants is my money, or
  • The church is full of hypocrites, or
  • I feel beat up and judged when I go to church, or...
I've heard all of these answers, plus a lot of others.  I ask people all the time.  And an increasingly common answer is given to me in the form of a question:

Why should I go to church?

From their perspective, the church doesn't care about them...the church cares about insiders, not outsiders.  Think about it:  the church speaks its own language, has its own insider culture, its own dress code and procedures.  Everyone knows when to stand up, sit down, bow and pray.  Everyone knows the words to the Lord's Prayer, the Doxology and other ceremonial rituals.  When the pastor says, "Turn in your Bible to the book of Habakkuk", he's making a subtle statement:  you should have brought your Bible.  If you didn't, people are looking!  So, everyone opens their Bible and turns quickly to Habakkuk.  An outsider - IF he brought a Bible at all, is still in the table of contents by the time the Scripture reading is over!  And when the pastor says "sanctified" or "justified" or "holified", everyone nods in affirmation, unanimously affirming that they know what those words mean.  (holified is not a real word, by the way, in case you were wondering!)

The outsider often feels embarrassed at best or like an idiot.

So, if you come to church as an outsider, you are identified - either overtly or subtly.  You are noticed.  You might even have to stand up and tell everyone, "Hi, I'm Bill.  I'm not a churchgoer."

Who likes to feel like an outsider?

And guess what?  Bill doesn't HAVE to feel like an outsider!  He thinks, "Why would I want to do that when I can hang out with the fellas or my family?"

You see, when the church quit caring about meeting people where they are (see Sunday's message here), it lost its privilege to speak into peoples lives.  And now, people see the church as completely irrelevant.  Their question could come another way:  What does the church have to do with me?

In other words, they're giving fewer excuses and, with bewilderment, saying, 'Why are you even asking me this question'?

A couple of generations ago, EVERYONE went to church.  You were looked down upon if you didn't go.  There was peer pressure from the entire community to attend.  Today, just the opposite is true.  People can work, play, sleep in, do their home repairs, go to the river, watch the game, cut the grass.  THAT'S NORMAL TODAY!  And with all of these things, what they are saying is, "I find more value in investing my time in those activities than I do in investing my time at church." They are prioritizing their time, just like you and I do, and doing what they see as most valuable.

What the church has to do, if it wants to regain the privilege of speaking into people's lives, is become a valuable resource.  We have to be something brings so much value, they'll choose to come invest an hour or two of their time with us...choosing church over the river, chores, work, sleeping in or watching the game.  We have to meet people where they are, just like Jesus did. Just like He wanted His church to do.  Just like the early church did.

Until it didn't.

This is why we do music styles that are current or classic instead of dated.  It's why we deal with topics, life stages, events, circumstances, emotions and issues that people are dealing with or thinking about and that can help them live better, more healthy, more God-intended lives.  It's why we pay attention to new cultural patterns, how people learn and engage today in different ways than they did in the past.

Our message will never change:  Jesus is alive!  He is God!  And the only way to a full, rich life (this life and the next) that reaches the zenith of its potential is through Him!

But our methods will always be changing, so that we can meet people where they are...just like Jesus did, and His first followers, and the Apostle Paul and the early church.  This is how we become part of the spiritual conversation again, and it's why people are discovering the truth about Jesus at PCC.

When people ask me, "Why is PCC able to get people to come to church?" my short answer is this:
We quit caring about what WE wanted.  We lay down our own preferences and desires and live into this one truth: Jesus died for us.  Our lives are FULL because of Him - regardless of what kind of music is playing!  We care about what Jesus cares about - people!  People who are far from Him, desperate for Him.  We care about helping them live life to the fullest, which can only happen when they discover Jesus Christ and they will only discover Jesus Christ when the church starts meeting them where they are.  That's what we do.  And may it ALWAYS be so!

1 comment:

S.S. said...

It is interesting that so many are discussing this topic right now.
Earlier in the week I read a piece by a christian author on "Why young people are leaving the faith" and believe it or not, the thrust of the article was that young people don't stay in church because people try too hard to make church fun! "Fun church" was condemned considered as relevant to faith as a karaoke bar.
It seems that there can be a discrepancy between how we get people to church (by being relevant and how we keep them there.
How best engage those who commit to a "cutting edge" church is another key point in the dialog on why churches die.