An informal survey of the unchurched

The following post was a collaboration between Mandy and Jeff

Church has become quite a hot topic issue in the recent years. Move to a southern town, and the question you’re most likely to hear after “What’s your daddy’s name?” is “Do you go to church?” After that, you’ll most likely hear: 

  • “What church did you go to where you lived before?” 
  • “Are you looking at any churches here?” 
  • “You should come to my church.” 
  • “We’d love to see you Sunday!” 

With so many people ready to pounce on any newcomer or anyone they discover is not attending a church, the question remains, “Why do some choose against going to church?” 

In a quest to answer this very question, a series of five simple questions were sent to several people that have struggled with attending church. They were all more than willing to answer. I felt their urgency to be heard on this issue and also realized that their responses would have a lot of relevance for churches seeking to understand how to better reach people. 

The questions were as follows: 

  1. What do you dislike most about churches? 
  2. What do you think churches should do more of? 
  3. What do you think churches should do less of? 
  4. What is one church you would like to attend one day? Why? 
  5. What would you be least likely to attend: 

a) A Sunday morning worship service. 
b) A small group in someone’s home that you know. 
c) A service project with folks from a church. 
d) An evangelistic revival-crusade type meeting. 

1. What do you dislike most about churches? 

When answering the first question, the answers were amazingly similar. “Churchy” people were much disliked. Another issue was friendliness (or lack of it). One explained that in times when they had branched out and tried a church, they were ignored at church, shunned, and even talked about during the service by those sitting around them. Even worse, some were treated kindly Sunday morning before services started, but as soon as church was over, everyone “got into their own cliques” and seemingly forgot they were even there. No one was invited out to lunch with the group, no one was invited to sit and chat after church, no one was contacted again by anyone. 

Churches being too politically correct came up again and again as well. Though most disliked the “fire and brimstones” sermons, they also grew tired of only hearing of Christ’s love. They knew that they should leave church feeling both uplifted and ready to make changes. “Are pastors afraid to anger their congregations? Would a sermon speaking against premarital sex or judging those around you make too many red in the face?” 

2. What do you think churches should do more of? 

When asked what they thought churches should do more of, answers varied from more community involvement to being more “real.” Less pressure and more relating scriptural application to their life were very common themes as well. One answer that I personally enjoyed was, “Less technical terms. A lot of times a preacher will be speaking through their own intellectual level instead of that of a common group as a whole. Just as with computer lingo, preachers typically use lingo that is not necessarily well known to the group he is preaching to. For instance, Evangelical. Now, I can look that word up and still not decipher the meaning or usage. We need laymen’s terms.” 

3. What do you think churches should do less of? 

The third question seemed to stir up the most heat. The people questioned all had very similar answers again. The gist of what they said was, “Stop pressuring me!” People are tired of continuously being pressured to give more money, to attend more often, and to confess sins. They basically articulated that one will do those things in their own time. They asked, “Isn’t it better to do these things with an open heart, than do them because you feel forced to?” 

4. What is one church you would like to attend one day? Why? 

This question got the least answers. Most simply said they didn’t know of any churches they would like to attend. Only one answered: The Church at Rock Creek (in Little Rock). When asked why, the answer was simply because they had heard the pastor on the radio, and they thought he seemed to be in touch with what Christians of today are faced with. They also mentioned that he speaks in a language anyone can understand. 

5. What would you be least likely to attend…? 

The answers to the last question were divided. People were least likely to attend both a small group in someone’s home they knew and an evangelistic revival-crusade type meeting. 

Observations 

With all of the “church talk” that swarms around, I found it a bit shocking that only one person could think of a single church they would like to attend one day. What are we as churches doing wrong in this area? What are we doing to keep people away? Are we doing anything wrong, or is it a preconceived notion of how “churches” are? 

My question in response to the objection of feeling forced to do something spiritual vs. wanting to do it is, “What is a pastor to do?” In my personal opinion, my pastor’s job is to give me Biblical truths, to guide me in my spiritual life, and to come to me if he sees me struggling or making wrong choices. 

Matthew 18:15-17 says: 

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or tax collector.

When a pastor is so well aware of what truths the Bible holds and how they impact lives, how can we expect him to hold his tongue when dealing with us and how we live? To me, people that care about you will address issues with you that they see are holding you back or keeping you down. Don’t we want our pastors and church family to care about us? Perhaps the problem lies in this: Some people only hear from their church what they do wrong, and there is no care behind it, only judgment.

I was also rather surprised about responses to what they would be least likely to participate in. Why were so many turned off at the thought of attending a small group? Though they did not give their specific reasons, I’m assuming it’s because of the pressure they think will be put upon them to participate their first time coming or to have all of the answers. I’m also assuming they think that they will be even more harshly judged if their questions or answers don’t match up with the typical Xeroxed Christian responses. 

Upon pondering all of the answers and writing them out, it occurred to me that the most used word in all of them was simply – judgment. It is understandable that no one wants to be judged. No one wants to be gossiped about or excluded from a group. No one wants to feel like the black sheep or unwanted. It is absolutely inexcusable that anyone would walk into a building set apart for Christ’s followers and have any of these feelings. If we are truly following Christ, we will love people – ALL people. We will hurt when they hurt. We will put ourselves in their place and think of how we would want to be treated. We will remember The Golden Rule. The twist on this is that we, as Christians, are no different. We also do not want to be judged. We don’t want anyone to think poorly of us or assume how we are, or what we think, based on how any other Christian has believed or acted. 

The reason we are Christians is because we are completely aware that we are sinners. We are not and never will be perfect. This truth often means that we are called hypocrites. How can we sit in church each Sunday when we were using drugs Friday night? How can we raise our hands and worship the Lord when we gossiped Tuesday? The answer, my friends, is because we are on a journey. It is a never-ending journey to be more and more like Christ each day. Yes, we will stumble. Absolutely we will fall. Praise God that he never stumbles or falls. He is always there, each day, to wipe the dirt off of our stained faces, and to forgive our truly confessed sins, and to help us do better, and better, and better. We are in a constant battle of flesh vs. spirit. We must have other Christians, strong Christians, surrounding us to help us on our journey. To keep us on the right path. Sometimes to anger us with their truths, sometimes to hold us as we crumble, and many times just to have good fellowship with. 

The Bible warns us about looking down on and judging others. 

Romans 2:1-3 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 

Matthew 7:1-2 Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 

Matthew 18:12-14 What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost. 

These are just a few examples of scripture that shows the obvious distain Christ has for judgment on his people. I believe that we who attend church should be held to much higher standards than other should, for we hear God’s word each week. As Romans 2:1 says: “You, therefore, have no excuse….” From the outside looking in, it is easy to see how so many refuse to step foot inside a sanctuary. In our church, Journey, I know that we spend great amounts of time in conversation and in prayer about how we can reach those that have given up on church. How we can be more welcoming and more loving. Less “churchy” and less judgmental. I see our numbers growing each week. I see people from so many walks of life entering the front doors and leaving with smiles on their faces, and returning the next Sunday, and the next. I know that God is working through us. The joy that provides so many of us is simply indescribable. 

We must all be careful not to use the “do not judge” line in order to avoid accountability and thus refuse to submit to biblical authority or pastoral guidance. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 explains the importance of discernment and discipline inside the church. We are to be held accountable for our actions by fellow believers.

“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.” 

Wrapping up this long list of likes and dislikes of many people in reference to churches, I think it is imperative that we all, Christian and non-Christian, remember that oh so important word of judgment. We are all guilty of it. Instead of pointing fingers at each other for being the imperfect creatures that God created us to be, let’s hold out our entire hand, fingers stretched out, and embrace one another, faults and all, just as Christ has done. Let us not be afraid to speak God’s truth to each other, and let us not be quick to be offended when we hear it. Remember to do all things out of love. All things with a compassionate heart. Let us make this day the day we soften our hearts to one another and let God’s love shine through us. 

Tags: , , ,

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. An informal survey of the unchurched | Notes from the Trail - June 30, 2008

    […] She interviewed a few unchurched families in our area. They were gracious enough to answer five questions. The results of the survey may surprise you in a few areas. Swing by IP and check out the article. […]