I’ve visited a few congregations this month talking and listening. My topics have been the future of the church, evangelism, congregational renewal, etc. Consistently, I’ve heard the same questions. The biggest one on people’s minds is “How do we get more people to come to church?”
Congregations have tried lots of gimmicks … invite a friend Sunday, come as you are Sunday, bring your pets Sunday; at least one church even tried, come to church and win a car, Sunday! My answer is the same … it’s the wrong question. People who want to go to church are going to church. The question isn’t how do we get more people in here, the better question is how do we get our people out in the community and build faith-filled relationships with people longing to know Christ?
The thing is that just like most non-church-goers don’t want to go to church, most church attenders … at least those in old-line denominations like the PCUSA … don’t want to make new relationships with people who are not like them. They have an unrealistic expectation that they can attract “people” to come into the church, that the people will see how warm and friendly and inspirational the church is, and want to join the congregation and become just like them. OK, I know that’s highly cynical of me … and most definitely unfair to the long-time church goers who genuinely don’t “get” why others aren’t as enamored with church life like they are.
It’s not 1956 anymore. People don’t feel guilty for not attending church anymore. There are lots of choices in people’s lives for entertainment, community, and spiritual nurture. Even people who are spiritual seekers are not necessarily going to wander into a church building on Sunday morning. They will join discussion groups, seek spirituality groups and coaches, watch Oprah, gather with friends, and read blogs. Their concept of church-going Christians is that we are judgmental, hypocritical, irrelevant, and … boring. I know that’s harsh, and not necessarily true to our character, but if that’s what they think, that’s what we need to address.
So, the question is … How can we make relationships with people who are not currently part of a faith community and begin to witness a nonjudgmental, non hypocritical, and very relevant faith in Jesus Christ that’s vital to our lives? By answering this question well … we will not only help other people grow in faith, but we, too, will be challenged to grow spiritually. Our new friends may never enter the church door, but we will have had the opportunity to witness to the Gospel in real and tangible ways. And we can trust that the Spirit will continue to work in their lives as they become disciples of Jesus.
So … here are a couple of questions:
1. How do you get old-liners to make new “good news” centered relationships with spiritual seekers?
2. and a question I’ve struggled with for years: can you be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ and not “go to church?”