Every Sunday, Bill and his wife Janice walk into church with their 2.5 kids and sit thorough a hour long sermon. There is a kids ministry which teaches age appropriate biblical-themed curriculum to their kids. The coffee is good, the band is better, and the Pastor is a nice guy who teaches about God, Jesus, and living the life God has called you to live. After the service, Bill and Janice gather up the kids, shake some people’s hands, hop into their car, and go out for a nice lunch.
Seems like a normal Sunday for millions of Americans. After all, 40% of Americans report they are regular church attenders. That’s a pretty nice number. Almost half? Sweet! Only the numbers are deceiving. There is a fundamental flaw in human psychology. Americans tend to over-report socially desirable behavior like voting and attending church and under-report socially undesirable behavior like drinking. That nice 40% number is actually closer to 18% if you take “regular church attendance” to mean weekly attendance. For the sake of argument, we will assume “regular church attendance” means 3 of the last 8 weeks (aka less than half). The number only increases to about 25%. Where are all the people?
Churches used to be the center of a community. Every time a new city would pop up, one of the first building erected was a church; usually close to the center of town. The church has proper facilities for the community to use. It was a place where people gathered to do life together. Church wasn’t something you did on Sunday, it was part of who the community was. Those days are in the past for the majority of Americans. Now, most Americans see church as just another thing for them to do (if they even do it at all).
*Side note, about 25% of Americans say they attend a small group gathering weekly and rarely or never attend a corporate worship service. Very interesting.
So how do churches become the center of the community once again? Some say it cannot be done. I think it has more to do with the mindset of the leadership and their willingness to think outside the box. If a church has decided to make their stand, fold their arms, and stubbornly refuse to change their model, they will die out. If they are willing to sit back and take inventory of where culture and the community is headed, they will be able to get back into the center of it all.
See the days of culture conforming to the church are OVER. Churches had better find a way to redeem what is happening in culture or they will quickly find themselves struggling to keep the lights on. I’m not proposing churches just become reactionaries and embrace all of the stuff culture tell people to do but here is the reality; things are things. Facebook isn’t good or bad. Instagram isn’t good or bad. A car isn’t good or bad. There is no reason for churches to shy away from interacting with culture where they are. People are what make things good and bad. The internet isn’t good or bad but the people on it sure can skew it one way or the other.
Churches also need to realize the days of “build it and they will come” are gone. No one cares about your building except your people. A non-church attendee isn’t going to see your building and magically want to come there. What WILL happen, statistically speaking, is that same person will come to your building if they are asked to come by one of their friends. I wonder what would happen if churches invested the same amount of money in people as they do buildings? $11M would go a long way in renovating a community center or building a community space.
Churches need to realize they aren’t the center of attention any longer. The majority of Americans don’t even darken the doors of a church. So if the church wants to keep up with population growth, they had better start thinking of ways to get back into the community and stop expecting people to just show up.