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 the leaders 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 people.

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.

34 comments

  1. The true Church of Christ has nothing to do with attending a building. The world goes by what it can see, whereas true faith is believing in the unseen. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) This was such an excellent writing!!!! You have said it like it is when you said: “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.” Many Blessings.
    Julia
    https://precioussheepofrenown.com/2022/07/20/the-true-church-of-christ-part-1/
    https://precioussheepofrenown.com/2022/07/21/the-true-church-of-christ-part-2/

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a Catholic, to not attend church is unthinkable for me. It’s God’s house. This is why I prefer liturgical worship–it is not dependent on the pastor’s personality or who is in the pew. The only thing we’re supposed to seek in church is God, not people or community. Those things are important, but they are not the focus of worship.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brother, I honestly believe you are reading my mail. I couldn’t agree with you more. The ecclesia needs to refocus on what we were called to do. Bless you brother.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great article. Excellent article. I especially love this quote – “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.”

    I recently wrote about the core that is missing in church – trust. Without it, it doesn’t matter if you are fully invested online or gone all in on in-person. To equate this what you wrote – you end up with empty people. Revelation talks about empty people – calling them lukewarm churches, neither hot or cold. Not all in on anything, but showing up for the sake of showing up.

    If that’s what church is, then we’re wasting our time, energy and resources and I say that as a fellow pastor. If we aren’t interested in being transformed by God, then what are doing? If we aren’t going to live into the proclamation of life, death, and resurrection, then why would anyone else listen?

    Empty people.

    And we have in the midst of that the most important message in the history of humanity, but we’re afraid of proclaiming because some people (who are empty) might leave because it would be too challenging to their status quo of emptiness. Screw that. Let the dead bury the dead and proclaim the message of transformation and life, death, and resurrection. Set an environment and nurture a culture where those who want transformation can get it and take it out to the world to share with others.

    Enough of the emptiness and assuming that it’s normal – it’s not. There’s something so much better if we just dare to live it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Driving Toward the Morning Sun and commented:
    Dear fellow travelers,

    Sundays here are now “Sunday Share.” Today’s post comes from pastor, author and blogger Dave Peever. It’s a searching and thought-provoking piece on why attendance is declining in American churches.

    He writes: “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.”

    Read the full post below:

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I go to church to grow in my faith, share in a community that is based in faith and not on “worldly” values, and to keep myself grounded and connected more firmly to God. That being said, I’m having a hard time finding a church where that can happen. Some churches have become, as you say, just shows and shows that are usually not to my taste. Others have become political machines (I actually had one pastor tell us how to vote in a pastoral prayer, and another church now has a “social justice sunday school” where all that is discussed is current topics.) I can get all that elsewhere….I want a church that is actually a church. I know that sounds odd, but I don’t know how else to put it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Such good food for thought! This statement in particular has me thinking and praying… “ 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 people.” Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. People will be attracted to the church not for the building, not for the show, but for the problems it seeks to solve. It should be a non-judgmental place where all of us sinners gather to receive forgiveness and hope. You can’t get that anywhere else. We offer community to those who have no one. We offer support for those in need. We offer inspiration to get us through the week. We offer intellectual and philosophical stimulation to excite their curiosity. We offer a chance for people to help and have a purpose in life. Most importantly, we introduce people to the God we know…the loving, caring Father, creator of all things, the essence of sacrificial love in the Son, the strength and wisdom of the Spirit.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reblogged this on Mitch Teemley and commented:
    My Featured Blogger this week is David Peever, teacher, ministry consultant and author of the book ‘Blueprint.’ I’ve found few people who cut so effectively and authentically to the heart of what true faith is amid our modern landscape of broken churches. Read and see.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. We have few people attending our church. Recently my pastor told me that on a trip to Israel, he entered a famous church during a church service. The only person in attendance was the pastor. Afterwards my pastor asked him why he held a service with no one. The pastor said that God deserve worship if only by one.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Fantastic. As for your second paragraph, I have watched a few of your services, and I would gladly have shaken your hand and said, “Good job.” But I cannot remember who I was reading recently, but they were talking about how a strong-arm tactic was not the way to evangelize. They said that if someone did not want to spend an hour each week praising and glorifying God, would they want to do that full time for eternity? It was a harsh way of saying it but eye opening. I am working toward the end of my Bible Study on Revelation, and chapter 16, where the bowls of God’s wrath are poured out, often speaks of the people not being repentant and cursing God. This may not be the season of the bowls being poured out, but the people seem to have spoken in that vein. But we must keep spreading the Word so that God will direct that Word to His elect.

    Like

    1. I wonder how heart broken God is when he sees that many don’t bother with church and many who do are just showing up – I miss the passion I used to see for God and only God but now I am not sure what I see but it seems to be more like putting in time

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I might agree with you, but if their heart has been changed, God can awaken them. I have been that half-awake guy in the past, at times. Now, I feverishly take notes although I rarely use the notes in my writing – I am just actively listening, trying to absorb as much as possible.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s funny you say that – I remember looking out when preaching one day and seeing people taking notes and at that moment both the blessing of being a preacher and the awesome responsibility of preaching hit me – I felt so unworthy and so thankful

        Liked by 1 person

  12. We love our church. There is an emphasis on solid biblical teaching, small groups, and service. My wife serves in the Nursery twice a month and I serve as a Greeter. We have made more friends here than at any other church we attended.

    Liked by 2 people

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