Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore


Pastor Mark Jeske examines declining church attendance and explores five ways to rectify it.

Nobody wants to go to church anymore.

Those challenging words are in the title of a new book by Joani and Thom Schultz. Researchers at the Hartford Institute might concur. Here are some of their current stats on religion in America:

  • Only 40% of Americans say they attend worship services in a given week, but the actual numbers are far worse. Half of the “churchgoing” respondents are lying—the real number is only 20%.
  • In the three years from 2010 to 2012, half of all churches in America didn’t add any new members.
  • Estimates of the number of churches that closed their doors range from 5,000 to 9,000 per year.
  • Each year more than 3 million churchgoers enter the ranks of the “religiously unaffiliated.

The Schultzes identify four messages from people who don’t want to go to church anymore:

  1. “You judge me before you know me.”
  2. “You’re not interested in my thoughts and opinions. You only want to lecture me.”
  3. “The church is filled with poseurs and know-it-alls.”
  4. “I don’t experience God at church.”

Writer Steve McSwain piles on further in an online article by Huffington Post, blaming church leaders for the following ills:

  • Your demographics are aging rapidly. The young see no value proposition in attending your gatherings.
  • Existing congregations are not connecting with the great numbers of Hispanics who are migrating into their communities.
  • Millennials live and thrive in the world of digital communication. You don’t use technology well.
  • Clergy abuse, especially sexual abuse and its cover-up, have destroyed a great deal of respect for church leaders of all denominations.
  • Societal pressure to join and attend congregational activities is becoming nonexistent. Religious non-affiliation is the new normal.
  • There is enormous competition for people’s leisure hours.
  • Culturally homogeneous congregations contradict their talk about being open and welcoming to all. People want to see diversity, not just hear about it.

The Schultzes offer four remedies:

  1. Radical hospitality. People crave a sense of belonging and acceptance as exemplified by Jesus—more love, less condemnation.
  2. Fearless conversation. People don’t just want to sit and listen; they want to interact and ask hard questions.
  3. Genuine humility. People don’t want to hear religious leaders run others down, but rather honestly admit their own limits of understanding.
  4. Divine anticipation. People want to hear not only what God has done long ago but how (and if) he is interacting in human history today.

Since you asked, here are five of mine:

  1. Dare to tell people the painful truth about why their lives and the lives of others are so broken—sin is a terminal disease and it lives in us all.
  2. Proclaim without apology or dilution the great gospel message that God loves and forgives people unconditionally through Jesus Christ.
  3. Demonstrate complete confidence in the Bible as God’s Word and proclaim its message clearly and passionately.
  4. Challenge and recruit laypeople to service that is worthy of their high calling.
  5. You aren’t really ready to welcome new people unless you are willing to let them change your style and congregational culture.
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