Most people don’t want to go to church. But why? And what might interest them in joining a community of faith?
Those questions have sent us across the country looking for answers. After years of research and countless interviews, my wife, Joani, and I have finally collected our findings. They’re in a new book titled, no surprise, Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, with a subtitle of “And How 4 Acts of Love Will Make Your Church Irresistible.”
We found four recurring themes why the majority avoids church. Here’s a sneak preview from the book:
1. “I feel judged.” Gabe Lyons’ and David Kinnaman’s research in their book UnChristian confirms that “church people judge me.” According to their studies, 87 percent of Americans label Christians as judgmental. Fair or unfair, most people view the church as critical, disapproving, and condemning. Whether it’s behavior, looks, clothes, choice of friends, lifestyle decisions, or whatever, the church has a solid reputation for acting as judge and jury over our individual differences.
2. “I don’t want to be lectured.” More than ever, people today want to participate in the discussion. One man told us he’s talked with more than a thousand other men who’ve given up on church. He said, “Guys don’t want to sit in a room and idly listen to some preacher do all the talking. They want to ask questions. They want to share their thoughts, too.” The same goes for women. They don’t want another one-way lecture.
3. “Church people are a bunch of hypocrites.” This isn’t a small minority talking. A whopping 85 percent make this claim. We know, we know. Every church leader in America is weary of this “excuse.” But people aren’t merely referring to incongruous behavior. What bothers them is the sense that church leaders act as if they alone have all the answers. As if they’ve arrived. As if they’re only interested in telling others what to do—“teaching,” to use ministry vernacular.
4. “Your God is irrelevant to my life. But I’d like to know there is a God and he cares about me.” Research by the Barna Group reveals that only 44 percent of people who attend church every week say they regularly experience God at church. They’re not looking for the deep theological trivia that seems to interest a lot of preachers. They crave something rather simple. They want to be reassured that God is real, that he is more than a historical figure, that he is present today, and that he is active in the lives of people around them.
Whether we like it or not, this is what the population is saying about the church today.
Now, as God’s people, we can defensively bark back and shift the blame to all those heathens and backsliders who’ve abandoned the church. But that will do nothing but hasten the decline of the American church.
Or, we can explore ways to better be the church. That’s what led us to the “four acts of love” we describe in the book. When it comes to the plight of the church, one thing’s for sure. God has not given up on his church. He’s at work, urging his people forward. We simply need to get on board.