A local Southern Baptist pastor I know and respect serves a church in rural Appalachia. On Tuesday he took to his Facebook page to ask the question: “If you are a person who used to be involved with Church, but are not at this time, what would it take to get you back?”
It’s the question every pastor, theologian, religion journalist, and analyst thirsts to know the answer, isn’t it? Why do people return to church? But answers for why someone returns, however, are as varied as reasons for leaving in the first place.
(Here are just a few studies and articles on why people, especially youth, leave the church: “Why America’s ‘nones’ left religion behind”; The Real Reasons Young Adults Drop Out of Church”; “Vast majority of U.S. Catholics who left the church can’t imagine returning, study says.”)
During Christmastime it seems especially appropriate for a local pastor to raise the question, “Why do you return to church?” Pastors see the sharpest increase in attendance during the Christmas season, second to only Easter, according to a 2014 Pew Study. The study found more Americans search for a nearby “church” around Christmas and Easter more than any other time of year.
The goal of my pastor friend who raised the question isn’t an attempt to create a seeker-sensitive church with a blacked-out sanctuary and “hip” café simulcast services. His intentions are, I believe, out of sincere concern for his local community.
Besides more than one answer involving “prayers,” some of the responses posted on my friend’s Facebook wall included:
“Sometimes people make other people feel unwanted and unvalued in church.”
“[Get] rid of all those holier than thou hypocrites that sit in the front row and sin more than all the people they look down their noses at[.]”
“I’m finding I can be very content listening to great messages/ sermons at home and then I don’t have to deal with the so called Sunday morning body of believers, whom may I add if I see them out throughout the week won’t speak but on Sunday’s they have the greater than thou loving attitude. Or may I add there’s the ones who want to pass so much judgement on me and how I’ve lived but yet their own ‘house’ is a mess..SO what will it take hmm, perfect people which we all know that’s not going to happen so I believe I will continue worshipping from home.”
“Honestly, if you know god well and share a relationship with him, you can tell what churches are real and what churches are just a building with people in it.”
“I am afraid too many folks tend to think church is about them and how they feel, we need to emember church is about our Lord and Savior. We need to focus on worshiping Christ, church hould not be about making us feel good, just need to worship our Savior.”
People are obviously deeply wounded by others in the church, which causes too many to leave. Yes, sadly there are hypocrites, phonies, and frauds in every church across America. Because, as I’ve heard it repeated over and over, the church is a hospital filled with broken, imperfect people. That’s not going to change until the good Lord returns. Where else would we rather broken, imperfect people be other than church?
So perhaps, instead of phrasing the question as “What would it take to get you back?” one might ask “What circumstances in life make/made you reconsider the significance of the local church?”
Many of you already know that my own parent’s, both baptized in the Catholic Church as children, left in their adolescence and then returned to church out of sheer desperation during a time of broken trust in their marriage. Mom and dad were searching for something, anything to help remove the immeasurable loads of rejection and guilt, respectively, they staggered under. I thank the Holy Spirit’s prodding that my parents wandered into that random Assemblies of God sanctuary on the corner near their home and found transforming salvation, grace, and the support and counsel of caring, yet imperfect, Christians.
Your turn. If you are a person who used to be involved in a local church, but are not at this time, what is a reason you might return? Please leave your thoughts or story in the comment section below.Google+