Today I listened to my pastor talk about belonging, and how it is a vital part of our well being. The sermon was very good, but I wont get into detail because it was really just the starting point of my own thought process that forked off quickly from there. (Don’t worry, Jonny, I was still listening.) We are a church that is seeking to build connections. There is no question about that. We have a connection center for the extroverts, and we have QR codes labeled “connect” all over for the introverts who don’t specifically feel like walking up to talk to people early Sunday morning. We are also not without friendly faces all over the place happy to greet anyone who comes in the front door. However, we, just like many other churches, struggle to truly bring in and keep new people. Why is it that people don’t want to come to church anymore?
*as a note: these topics are not directly related to my specific church.
This question is a hot topic. Research and strategies have been funded and implemented all over the United States, but if you look around you can see that there is still so much scrambling going on, within church leaderships, to figure out why people aren’t showing up. People have written books, blogs (as I am doing now) and scholarly editorials on the topic; yet people still aren’t showing up. Everything from not being warm enough, worship being too ridged, not enough programming, and not enough outreach. You name it, someone is testing out a new strategy somewhere today. Yet as I said already, its just not really that effective. The general synopsis is that no one really knows what to do.
Now I am not an expert. Far from it. so take this as strictly an opinion piece through basic observation and understanding. I still wanted to put my two cents in though and possibly open up the topic for anyone who would also like to chime in as well. So here we go. I’ll kind of do this in a list-ish format.
The first and most prominent thing that comes to my mind is that there is a massive gap in ideology between generations right now. As with everything else there are outliers that show up on the outside of the spectrum, but the fact of the matter is that the older generations are stuck in their ways – which do work for them – and they are unwilling to compromise. They don’t want traditions to be rocked. They don’t want what they know to be altered. On the flip side, however, the younger generations do not want anything to do with tradition right now. Where the older generations find comfort in the normalcy of old traditions; the younger generations see them as somber and uninspiring. As you can imagine this contrast doesn’t help because then the older generations view the younger generations as irreverent and the younger generations view the older generations as stubborn. If a church wants to grow the first thing I think needs to be addressed is helping the different generations find the common ground. The older generations need to be willing to pass the baton in humility, and the younger generations need to receive it with respect. Find ways to draw them together. If we can learn to blend the wisdom of the elders with the tenacity of the youth, we can make amazing things happen in the body of Christ. In bartender speak, we need to be able to stop making cement mixers, and start making whiskey sours. (If you don’t know what a cement mixer is, order one and thank me in the comments below later.)
The second thing that comes to mind is this. Lets change the dress code to comfortable casual. I know, I know, this sounds so surface level and blasphemous all at the same time, but hear me out. Also know that I am guilty as charged in this category as I speak on this. You get up Sunday morning, groggy because you sure wish you could sleep in, but instead you need to get up even earlier to get ready to present your Sunday best. God knows what you look like in your birthday suit, or right when you wake up. He knows what your breath smells like after eating ice cream at night and forgetting to brush your teeth before you go to bed. Yet, for some reason we feel the need to dress up ‘for God’ come Sunday morning. My question is: who are we really dressing up for? The same people that we are also plastering our fake smiles across our face for. The congregation. Now why is this a problem? I know, its fun to dress up at least once a week for an hour, but I wonder if church is really the place to do it. Here is the thing, everyone has a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. Not everyone has that nice suit. Nothing will separate people faster than when people are wearing nicer things than others could even dream to wear. In a time where socioeconomic tensions are ridiculously high I think church is a great place to put all that aside and literally just come as you are. Put down the makeup brushes; keep the cologne cap on. Put down the slacks, and put on some jeans. Take off the suit jacket and throw on a polo or a tee. If you think you are dressing up for God, I promise you he isn’t impressed. If you are dressing up for the people in the church, then you are trying to impress the wrong people. I understand there is a fine line when just replacing one dress code for another, but I think it could bridge a huge gap if there was no way to tell someone’s socioeconomic status within the walls of the church.
Thirdly, for the love of God – literally – can we drop the debate on homosexuality. When I say drop the debate, I mean we need to just knock it off. We as Christians are literally alienating an entire population of people in the united states because one church says come on in and another tells them to get out. The fact that we are even having any debate on the topic just goes to show how far from the heart of Jesus we are as a community. Jesus made things very, very clear. Love one another, as He loves us. Love our enemies as our neighbors. Do not judge one another, because even Jesus declared he wasn’t on the earth to judge people. Where are we missing the point? Stop telling people they are unwelcome. Even if you are a church that is welcoming of the LBGT community you are still living within the stigma that church is not for them. But, what about marriage? what about living in sin? what about what our children will think? what about…shush! Yes, I just shushed you. You have a log in your eye and you are worried about the speck in someone else’s. Enough is enough. The idea of someone living “more openly” in sin than someone else is a view from the ground level. We as Christians know that God holds all sin equally and we are all guilty of living openly in sin because it is our nature to sin. All of the “what-about’s” are none of our concern. As I have said to many people before. Our job as Christians is actually quite simple. Introduce people to Jesus. Introduce Him to them by being the embodiment of love and acceptance. From there the person and Jesus can sort out how their relationship will grow. It’s not on you to condemn or cause missteps in their relationship. In the end every one of us will go over our own relationship with Jesus one on one, and if you are one of the people who is telling others that they aren’t worthy of a relationship with Jesus I do not envy you in that discussion. This doesn’t just go for the LBGT community either. There are so many people we alienate for this very reason as well, I just wanted to select one in particular.
There are many other areas that I may go into in future blogs, but there is one more that I wanted to address today. Wipe the smile off your face. For far too long it has been socially unacceptable to show up to church, Sunday morning, with anything other than a plastic smile on your face. If you want to build connections within the walls of the church – I mean real connections; not business connections – then you have to be willing to be exposed. You have to be willing to tear your walls down and be real with the congregation. Removing the fake smile is a really good way to start breaking down the walls. If your pastor is standing in the front telling people to come down with their concerns, and everyone is sitting there with that fake “trust-me-I’m-okay” smile on their face it isn’t very enticing to be the only one to stand up and say “I’m not okay.” Encourage your congregation to express themselves, and be open with where they are. If you want to connect you have to have something to connect to. Velcro does not stick to a slick wall, it only sticks to other Velcro. Imperfection meets imperfection and it joins; polished perfection can not stick to anything.
As I stated before, this is just the opinion of a common individual, but here is one more thing that common sense tells me. If you want change to happen when the direction of the ship has been going one way for a long time. You have to realize that even if you make a sharp turn of the wheel it’s going to take a very long time to actually start seeing the change. Much in the same way that the civil rights movement had major victories 60 years ago, but racism and neo-segregation is still rampant all over the united states. Ideas set in motion take time to come to fruition. They take time to hold. You have to be patient. These 2 year, 5 year, and even 10 year studies are not going to ever show the true results of actions made today, and we will never see the results of any actions if we are constantly turning the wheel one way or the other trying to make drastic corrections fast. Set a course, make it intentional, make it a course that Jesus would be proud of, and continue forward.
I would love to hear your ideas as well so please share in the comments below. Thank you!