For years I’ve been fascinated and devastated by the mass exodus of people leaving the church. Statistics show a dramatic decline in Americans who say they attend church regularly and/or identify themselves as Christians. I’ve read blog posts and news articles on the topic. A quick search on the world wide web will net you a plethora of results. Research has been done and studies have been held. People have been polled and numbers have been crunched. In a nutshell, it’s not good.
Preachers and pastors and professors have theories about why this is happening. Some fault church leadership. Others note that church has become “boring”. Hypocrisy is often mentioned as a cause. It’s not that I don’t believe preachers and pastors and professors. I do. But because I live in Missouri (the Show-Me state) I like to do my own digging.
About a year ago I drafted a list of questions about church and asked my friends to answer them. I am not a scientist or a theologian. I am just a girl asking questions. Thirty people sent me their responses. The folks who participated come from various religious backgrounds, live in different parts of the country, are of different sexual orientations, in different seasons of life, and each carry their own church celebrations and hurts.
I’ve read through the responses a number of times over the last several months. I’ve prayed about how to share their words and feelings in an authentic way. I have felt very overwhelmed by the prospect and piled the responses up into a neat stack and placed them in the bottom drawer of my nightstand.
Last weekend my precious, tender hearted 11 year old daughter made the decision to give her life to Christ. She was baptized in a small, simple ceremony surrounded by close friends and family. It was beautiful. It made me dig out those survey responses and read them with renewed purpose.
Guys, my church is GOOD. It is filled with jacked up people who aren’t afraid to admit their faults. They love one another and they love God and they love ME. This church steps up when there is a need, in the church or in the community. I leave a service feeling edified and convicted and like I have really worshipped my Creator. Our church family has prayed for us and fed us and babysat for us and supported us.
I’m not the only one with positive church experiences. Every single person who responded to my survey had at least one positive thing to say about the church. Many of their responses are similar to my own experiences. “A sense of community. Relationships. Support. Opportunities to serve. Feeling included. Acceptance.” Good stuff there. I want my girl to have this as she grows up.
On the other hand, there are just as many negative experiences. Here are a few. “Disagreements over trivial things. Cliques. Lack of commitment. Apathetic attitude. Arguing over traditions. Fakeness. Legalism. Selfishness over selflessness. ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ attitude. Preaching hate.” I don’t want these to be my daughter’s words in another ten years.
I’m convinced that Satan LOVES the current state of the church. Folks are hurting. In church. Because of church. It’s heart breaking and gut wrenching. I imagine the devil is scheming and planning and stirring up frustrations. He’s celebrating hurt feelings and division. HOW DO WE STOP THE BLEEDING???? How do we create a church culture that our children can grow up in, feeling safe and loved?
I want to have a magic formula. I want there to be an obvious, fool proof method to fix it. A ten step plan. With bullet points. Maybe an acronym (like S.A.V.E or F.I.X). But guys, it’s too big. Too hard for me to figure out.
Or is it?
I’m becoming increasingly convinced that Satan is rubbing his hands together in smug satisfaction, confident that he has fooled us into believing this problem is too big, too hard. If we assume we can’t do anything to fix it, isn’t Satan winning?
I believe we CAN do something.
Here’s the deal. All those people who have been hurt by the church? They were hurt by people, individuals. Folks just like me (and you?) who claim to be Christians but get all twisted up in rules and rights and wrongs. People who think they’re doing the right thing by fighting for good but who might have forgotten that the most important thing is to love.
So here’s what I’m going to do. Or try really, really hard to do. I’m going to try to treat all the souls I meet the way I want my daughter to be treated. With dignity, with respect, and with love. It sounds simple, because it is. It’s not a program or a plan, it’s not complicated at all. Satan would like me to think that I need to spend hours and weeks and years figuring it out when all I think I really need to do is treat people like I want my daughter to be treated. Like their precious, tender hearts are as important as my own child’s. Because to God, they are. And if I’m to be worthy of the name Christian, they should matter that much to me too.
Don’t feel overwhelmed like I have felt. Don’t let the enemy convince us it’s too hard.
Let’s stop the bleeding.
Let’s cultivate a church culture that will hold our kids up, and embolden them to love fearlessly and be loved completely.
It starts with us.
You and me.
I really think it’s that simple.