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.