I travel more than the average person. Flights often allow me the opportunity to talk, in a non-threatening way, with both Christians and non-Christians. I have discovered that the data we continually hear reported about the church is telling us a number of truths that we generally do not like to hear inside the leadership structures of the church.
While the church once was a thriving part of most America communities it has now been relegated to something seen as outside normal society, or something that offers no living, vital community to people. In the past, when people were in need, whether physical or spiritual, they would look to local churches for assistance. Most importantly they looked to the church for ways to cope and live every day life. The simple, measurable fact is that this is no longer true. The church has lost its value to people who still seek for ultimate truth. One study found that 60% of Americans do not value the Church for any direction in their life, or feel that the Church could possibly offer them any value in directing their personal decisions or life goals.
On a recent flight to and from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I had the opportunity to chat with some extremely bright and successful fellow-travelers. Again and again I heard people say “I have positive regard for Jesus but the church is another matter.” We church leaders can blame others all we want but I am reminded of the wisdom of Pogo when he said, “We’ve met the enemy and he is us!” Shouldn’t we become more transparent and honestly ask: “What is happening and where will this lead us?”
As American demographics shift and move, very rapidly these days, neighborhoods are changing and reforming. At the same time, as a friend of mine puts it, “The Church has lost touch with those in the most accessible area–their backyard.” The church has become another organization competing for people’s sense of community. These other community organizations can, and do, integrate people into their fold allowing people to truly feel like they belong. Once accepted in that community, it becomes even more difficult for the church to reach these folks, as people then feel like, “If you had cared, you would have made me a part of your community first.” The number of young adults leaving their childhood spiritual roots is now nearly 90 per cent. The number one reason–“Spiritual needs are not being met.”
This is precisely what I heard on my flight to and from Florida a few days ago. Our churches are seen as judgmental and exclusive. While it is true that we should discipline those inside the church (which has all but been lost over the last forty years) we forgot that the “front door” should be as large and inclusive as possible. Most people I talk to see the church as a “members only” club for the religious elite. They then deduce that we are hypocrites based upon what they are told by the media and see with their own eyes every day. If we are to alter this growing and powerful perception we must begin to live out the love of God deeply rooted in incarnational mission. This mission must include and invite all people into our community regardless of their present sin or their past. The church was always a hospital for sinners never a haven for saints. The problem is that we forgot this fact and our leaders are not doing a lot to help us regain this sense of our calling to reach the world.