Empty People – Empty Churches

I see no need to attend church. I know it sounds crazy coming from a pastor but the truth is I have trouble giving a good reason to show up every Sunday let alone throughout the week. I am referring to the congregation of course, if I don’t show up I won’t have a job.

Outside of my quick wit, my highly engaging sermons, my incredible musical abilities, my powerful congregational prayers, and of course my unmatched humility, why would anyone be bothered attending church?

You may think I am joking but I am all these things!

Actually I may not be all these things but judging by those who have dominated the “how-to” church growth movement of the past thirty plus years, I should be. The charisma of the speaker and the quality of the musical presentation along with the abundance of programs throughout the week are the mark of a successful church. With so many churches buying into this “winning” formula why are people leaving rather than joining?

People see no need to attend.

For three decades, maybe more, churches have been stripping themselves of compassion, community and commitment in favour of butts in the seats, bucks in the bank and broadening their sphere of influence. Once you feel like a number on an attendance sheet, a source of revenue or just one of many in a target group you are forced to ask yourself, why attend?

It doesn’t start that way.

Like any movie, concert or live production, if done well you are left wanting more. For some going to a movie once a week is a great way to escape for a few hours. For others once a month is more than enough. The rest attend once or twice a year for the blockbuster release or can’t be bothered to go at all.

The main reason for attending is to be entertained, to feel good and, once it is over, to feel like you did something more than just sit at home. This continues as long as it remains desirable, as long as it demands no more of you than to show up, be entertained and leave feeling good.

Things change when it no longer feels good.

At some point people just get bored. The entertainment loses its luster and the desire to leave the comfortable surroundings of the house disappears. For some this marks the end of regular attendance, while others continue to show up out of some sense of duty or tradition. Entertainment can inspire us, influence us, make us laugh or make us cry, make us feel good or make us feel guilty but the one thing it cannot do is make a permeant change in who we are.

A good cry can feel as good as a good laugh. Euphoria can lift our spirits and leave us with a short term feeling of wellbeing. Inspiration can give us a drive to be different but it isn’t long before the thrill of the experience wears off and we are left the same as we were before. At some point these experiences fail to move us and we go from short lived emotional indulgences to emptiness.

Church attendance is dropping…

…people want to know why. In the past poor presentations were blamed but now that we have tried to produce the best show in town we no longer can use quality as an excuse. People are still leaving. Only Christians seem impressed by the slick productions, only Christians seem to be moved to attend a church because the platform presentation was impressive and even that isn’t always enough.

What we value we do.

We are what we value even if what we value lacks value. We have a new generation of leaders and attendees trying to reach a new generation of people but they are often the leftovers from an era that valued the show as a way to connect with people and with God but never learned to value people or God.

Many of our church leaders and attendees are empty people who have replaced compassion, community and commitment with butts in the seats, bucks in the bank and broadening their sphere of influence.

Who can blame them, after all, just like the generation before them was taught that church was a sterile emotionless experience that must include liturgy and old hymns, this generation has been taught that church is about the presentation and programs.

Lost in all this is the need for a personal commitment to God that leads to a commitment to community which leads to a commitment to compassion for others.

Empty people – empty churches.

As we fight to impress with expensive shows and expansive buildings we are forced to face the reality of the cost. We need great performances on the platform to get people in the pews and put bucks in the bank if we are going to survive.

Behind the glitz and glamour of a Hollywood movie lies the emptiness of the pursuit of fame and fortune. You are only as good as the box office numbers of your next show. There is no more than this.

Behind the glitz and glamour in many churches lies the emptiness of the pursuit of recognition and mass appeal. You are only as good as the attendance numbers of your next church event. There is no more than this.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47 (NIV)

People have stopped going to movies and maybe church because it is no more than an escape to an empty, lonely world that has very little to do with reality.

*I am not against quality – lack of quality can cause people to tune out. Quality has value if it goes beyond entertainment and leads to engagement opening the door for meaningful reflection that leads to further compassion, community and commitment.

50 comments

  1. You are so right on about this subject. I never like the saying “going to church” because I am the church (1 Pet. 2:5) with my fellow believers. A small part of our local church has of late been aiming towards that Acts 2:42 lifestyle. Have you read Greg Ogden’s “Transforming Discipleship”? Yet another basic element missing from the contemporary church — “Go and make disciples . . .”

    Liked by 2 people

      1. let me put it this way – I would never call you a fraud even though we don’t agree nor would I call it a debate if there is no facts presented – I think you and I have quite different ideas of civil debate which will make it impossible for us to continue this interaction

        Liked by 1 person

      1. interesting view of history but the Bible I use does not include many books that the Catholic bible does – if you research the way they accepted or rejected writings as books of the bible I think you will see an in depth process
        I cannot prove the existence of a creator although I would suggest that there is much evidence for creation and against random chance but what I can say is if you are searching, read the book of John in the New Testament after asking God (even if you don’t believe in Him) to make Himself know to you through the words
        If you are looking for a more scientific approach try this web site https://ca.rzim.org/

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Yes, it is interesting, isn’t it?
        Luther, renegade Catholic and confirmed antisemitic, initially decides on what’s in and what’s out of the bible.
        And there was further rigmarole and wrangling.

        And the Jews did their thing at the Council of Jamnia!

        When one considers all the interpolation (forgeries), pseudoepigraphia, marginal glosses, and other various tinkering, it seems the claim of it all being ”God-Breathed” was just a wee bit premature, wouldn’t you agree?
        In fact, it all seems suspiciously man-made.
        To quote a line from the Life of Brian: ”He’s making it up as he goes along!”

        Liked by 1 person

      3. So all scripture is a failure because man sees sinful behaviour in those who claim to follow scripture? Does that not suggest that all other beliefs including believing that there is no creator are a failure? – I would again suggest that you follow the link I gave you before as it addresses much of you questions at a level that far exceeds my abilities – this comment section is not the best place or format for this debate

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Dave, I apologize for sending Ark your way. He was a regular at my place until I quit entertaining his atheist sermons. He has no interest in an actual conversation, but to disrupt things at your place.

        Hi Ark.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Truth in Palmyra and commented:
    Big shows, big plans and big budgets may create nothing but pews packed with lost souls. Maybe if we got back to the basics of preaching the Gospel and allowing the Holy Spirit work we could turn the world upside down like 12 men did 2000 yeas ago. This was thought provoking, Dave, thanks.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. For those who are reading through the comment section I want you to know that much of what I mention in blog posts and the comments is about churches in general. There is also information that comes from churches I have attended or interacted with who have or continue to need to transition from their old ways. If you think the post or comments are about you/your church – maybe God is telling you something!

    About 2 months ago my wife and I started attending a church that has all the “big show” equipment and the musical abilities to go with it. What they don’t have is the “big show” mentality. They are humble and passionate about worship and preaching the word. They are interested in people. They have an active small group ministry and a pastor who is ready to be there when someone needs him. I will enjoy taking my experiences from our new church to the next church I am transitioning.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. My wife and I have had a sketchy attendance record of late. She is still recovering from open-heart surgery and the protective medicines are giving her side effects, like gout. My sciatica is less of a flair up now, but really more day to day. This last weekend, my wife said that we have fallen prey to the ‘shut-in’ disease, making excuses. I said that we could sit in the pew for an hour no matter how bad we hurt. So we were there on Sunday, and God granted us less than normal pain. My wife is right. If you convince yourself of having a good excuse, you might never go to church again – moved to the shut-in list – so the pastor comes to you. I fear Wally Fry is right about many churches. Within 20 years, they may not exist. The young, active members are barely able to get themselves and their children to church.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Mark, you nailed something there. We actually have a fair amount of luck getting kids in church, as most parents are more than willing to let us pick them up and have them for a few hours. However, when we talk to THEM about coming along and visiting, the reception is lukewarm at best and often outright cold. It’s a big, big concern.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. it is troubling but I hear from many that they think the church is just a money grabbing, rip off organization and I have to say their observations are, in general, right when it comes to what they are exposed to day to day – I have no perfect solution but if we could somehow introduce them to the real church as God intended, maybe they would at least give it a second thought

        Liked by 3 people

      2. I know that is true out ther in lot of places, but I can say with certainty that is not us. We are just a working class country church. In fact, one of our biggest deals on Wednesday nights is feeding the kids. For some of them, that is the best thing they get all week, and we rarely talk about money around our place. People just give. I just don’t know, but wish I knew how to reach moms and dads more effectively.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. Well, don’t covet too hard my friend. The comments here regarding the active working of the Holy Spirit sadly apply to us more than they should. One of the issues we have is what almost seems like a fear that He, the Holy Spirit, might actually do something.

        Liked by 3 people

      4. I have mentioned this is comments before, Wally. Our pastor noticed that the parents dropped their children off at Sunday school and walked across the street to the Coffee House. He walked in and suggested a class be formed at the Coffee House. The manager had no problem, but then all his customers left, driving a few miles away to the closest Starbucks that far enough away from the pastor’s roaming eyes.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. on top of that too many pastors are okay with the younger generation only involved once or twice a month – they say it is the culture I say it is the church – give them a reason more than just getting together – help them discover a passion for God and they will embrace a new culture – a real Acts 2 church community culture – I would say when it comes to shut-ins come as often as you can and to pastors and fellow Christ followers make sure you connect with those who are shut-ins as often as you can as well as regular and semi-regular attendees – that is the push and pull of community – no one should feel alone in the family of God

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Dave, as you know my Father in Law is very sick, but fortunately has been able to at least go to preaching every Sunday, and most Wednesdays since he came home. He loves to be there. When he came home from the hospital this time, it was Wednesday, and all day long he was hoping to get home in time to go that night. He did not and was pretty bummed. However, about 15 or 20 people did the next best thing. They came here, and my wife played the piano, we sang some songs, and the preacher gave a short message. That is pretty Acts like I thought. They met house to house, and we can too. In fact, it made me wonder if that might be a ministry for us to perform on a regular basis. Hey, maybe that would let us reach some of the younger generations. Hmmmm…thanks for the thinking space here, Dave.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Agreed, but I do not know if the ‘church’ should take all the blame, maybe in a corporate way. A few days ago, my wife blurted out, at the dinner table,”I church needs a heavy dose of the Holy Spirit.” Is that the pastor’s fault? Is that the church leadership’s fault? Does the congregation feel comfortable when the Holy Spirit keeps a low profile? All of the above? Maybe we do the best that we can, pray – a lot, and we can keep these churches going until the next awakening. The Jesus Movement was a long time ago.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. A pastor once told me, “Do not mess with the type of people the church attracts.” I wanted to ask to what prejudice was he referring, but he meant for me to keep my efforts to amplify the words of the Holy Spirit. It might scare people off rather than attack them. We would have had a different church, though.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you for being real and raw. Currently I’m at a place where i value you authentic Christ-centered community over an over the top Sunday production. I value a two way conversation over hearing someone speak for 30-45 minutes straight. I value sharing a meal over attending an additional activity. Perhaps I’m just burnt out. Perhaps I need to pray about what I ought to do.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I am with you on that – we have lost the most important part about the Acts 2 church, – community – because the “how-to” church books seem to only want to focus on the thousands that came to faith as if the community that followed was just an unwanted side effect

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Pretty realistic; however, I remember dealing with some situations which literally threw me to the floor and at that point I had to reach out to God and say, “I need help”. That cry reverberated through heaven and I got the help I was needing. Talk to Jesus I say….vw

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dave, I know things can seem discouraging at times, and deservedly so. In our church, we are struggling a bit of late. If we had 100 worshippers on a Sunday morning right now, we would do backflips in the pews. On the other hand, to a positive note, the remnant which remain are faithful and dedicated. Now, having said that we do have a large potential future problem. Even though the ones remaining are faithful in their service and worship while in our place, they are not to faithful in reaching outside the doors to tell others. Hence, it is very possible our church could be gone in 20 years, once the folks of my age are no longer able to reach out. Just remember, that Jesus will preserve His church, and it will never die. He told us this.

    Matthew 16:17-18 King James Version (KJV)
    And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It is tough and what makes it worse is that we know we need the fellowship and to journey together so we don’t want to leave and yet often we don’t have fellowship and no one seems to want to journey with us so we stay but only because we feel we must – no perfect church no perfect people but it would be nice if the church and the people were failing as they tried to be the Acts 2 church rather than the big show – I am not bitter but I am deeply saddened and I assume God is even more saddened by what we have become.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I agree that small communities are the ideal, but still not sure of the logistics of brininging them together to share what is happening in their “family.”

        One of the reasons, I look at Celebrate Recovery as an ideal model.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think we could do both small communities and large gatherings if we cared for others in both settings –I think most of us that attended a Billy Graham event would say that they experienced an authentic man who cared about everyone even though he would personally interact with very few who were at the event. Somewhere between him and the mega church movement God centered people loving compassion got lost and replaced with a big show – Billy Graham had quality production but never got caught up in being the big show – The big show doesn’t care about anyone just being the big show

        Liked by 1 person

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