Thursday, October 9, 2008

Is church like oatmeal?

Is your past or present church experience kind of like eating oatmeal?
You know, that hot breakfast 'cereal of champions' that your Mother used to make every morning?
--that you wouldn't have willingly eaten, except your Mother made you eat it.
--that she told you was good for you, but you were never really convinced.
--that, like _________ brand of cereal “ Along with milk, fruit and orange juice was part of a nutritious breakfast” (Except that the breakfast would have been just as nutritious without the __________ brand cereal)
--that was kind of bland and tasteless by itself, and only started being enjoyable when she put raisins in it, or brown sugar on it.
--that you quit eating as soon as you moved away from home, and started eating stuff that was more fun.

Are your thoughts about your past church experience kind of like your thoughts about oatmeal?
Have you quit or become less faithful in your attendance in recent years?

Please don't think I am trying to lay a guilt trip. In the past few months I have been becoming more aware of this phenomenon, and would much rather see the church change from an institution to an organism, a place where there is life and joy, not drudgery and duty.

Guess what! You are not alone!

George Barna (The Barna Group) is a well-known student of the church. His group has done much research and analysis of religious trends in the US.
'Barna noted that the millions of young unchurched have no understanding of or interest in a church, even if it is "contemporary" in style. "Millions of young adults are more interested in truth, authenticity, experiences, relationships and spirituality than they are in laws, traditions, events, disciplines, institutions and religion. The confluence of preconceived notions, past experiences and evolving lifestyles and values means that existing churches simply cannot reach millions of today’s unchurched people. The rapidly swelling numbers of unchurched people may be forcing existing churches to reinvent their core spiritual practices while holding tightly to their core spiritual beliefs. It will take radically new settings and experiences to effectively introduce unchurched individuals to biblical principles and practices."'

Barna's research
shows that “more than three out of five (62%) unchurched adults consider themselves to be Christian. (2006), and 44% claim they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today. (2006)”

In other words, there are a large number of people by Barna's definition of unchurched (an adult (18 or older) who has not attended a Christian church service within the past six months, not including a holiday service (such as Easter or Christmas) or a special event at a church (such as a wedding or funeral).) who have a faith in Christ, but do not attend church.

A fellow blogger analyzed the US General Social Survey stats for 2000-2004 and came up with these church attendance percentages for those who consider themselves Christians:
Never, 10.4%
Yearly, 32.5%
Monthly, 19.1%
Weekly, 38.1%

Those statisticians who wonder if people accurately report things like church attendance have discovered that, particularly for those who consider themselves regular attenders, they say they were in church in the past seven days, even if they happened to actually not be there last week. Not in an effort to deceive, but in a desire to properly reflect the fact that they do consider themselves faithful. So, the reported percentages of regular attendance are probably over-reported, and even less people are actually in church. This appears to be supported by comparing church-reported statistics, and poll data.

If you expect that someone who says they go to church would be there fairly consistently, it's easy to see that perhaps 50% of people who identify themselves as Christians aren't regular church attenders (please remember that these are US numbers—overall Canadian church attendance is lower, but the ratios are probably similar).

Not only is all of this a telling description of the present state of society in general, and individuals in particular, but it also needs to aim us in the right direction. Not to try to entice people back to church with cuter programs, but to rethink the whole institution in a much deeper way.
What do we as Christ-followers really need to help us be better followers?
Is the impersonal 'Sunday morning fix' concept of church part of the reason many people don't bother going?
Does 'megachurch' miss the point of Acts 2:42 They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

Perhaps it is better to hang out with a fellow Christian for coffee, play a round of golf together, or serve together in some tangible ministry project than to be just another 'pew warmer' on Sunday morning.

Maybe it's time to change the breakfast menu from oatmeal to something like steak and eggs or pancakes or fruit salad.

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