I have a confession: I don't like church very much. Yeah, what a heretical statement for a Christian to make. After all, our love for God is measured by our church attendance. If we truly love God, we will:
1) Attend every Sunday morning and evening service at church.
2) Attend every Wednesday evening prayer service.
3) Attend every night of revival/special services.
4) Show up when there is a church cleaning.
5) Help with vacation Bible school
6) Show up any time anything is going on at the church, even if it is to clean the church.
If you miss any of these times and are not at death's door, you do not truly love God. OK, the death's door part is an exaggeration; but that is the idea given. If you don't show up for every service the church has, you do not love God. That is not an exaggeration.
I've given this a lot of thought lately. After all, if you are a Christian and don't enjoy church; it should be cause for concern and a time for retrospection. Many in my position would just lay all of the blame on the church, as the writer of the article seems to do. And maybe the church does share part of the blame. Regardless, here is what I have come up with in my retrospecting and self examination:
1) I cannot be real there. We are not comprised completely of our struggles, but they are a big part of us. My struggles aren't the ones I can get up in church and talk about. In fact, I rarely talk about them with anyone from my church; even with the ones who know about them....which has to be most of the church by now.
We all tend to put on our best for church, and that includes our best mask. Everyone must have it together when in church after all. I still wear a mask to church, but it is a very lopsided mask that doesn't hide much anymore..... and I am OK with that. I'd love to rip it completely off in church some day....... but that isn't the way we do things at church.
2) Church often tends to be too youth-oriented. My church is not exempt from this. About 7 years ago, several people at my church decided to revamp the youth program. One reason given was that we are losing too many youth, so the church must do more; ignoring the fact that most of the kids being lost was the responsibility and fault of the parents; not the church.
Since then, we hear a lot about the youth. They have a service once or twice a year where the youth run the main evening service and praise the youth focus (what they call our youth program) more than they praise God (or so it seems). Even the Christmas Caroling is done by the youth.
I am not against youth programs. In fact, my nieces and one nephew go to it; though my nieces don't like it very well..... but what about the rest of us? I suggested a few years ago having something for the singles that are out of the youth age group and was shot down. I was told that "the powers that be" wouldn't agree to it.
And no, I am not bitter. I just feel that in the rush to keep the youth in the church and to do all they can to make church relevant and authentic for the youth, the church is overlooking everyone else.
And guess what....... the same kids are still not serving God.
3) I don't feel part of the church. I used to feel like I was part of the church. There was a day I was more involved in the church, and then I was banned from doing something I actually enjoyed. Then I moved away for two years (nothing to do with the former statement), and since I moved back; things are different. I just don't feel like I am part of the church. I go to Sunday School and morning services, talk to a few people; and go home. I come back Sunday evening and do the same. And the rest of the week..... church is there, and I am here. Disconnected.
4) Too much form. I don't have specific changes in mind, but sometimes I feel we are in a rut. Every worship service goes like this:
a) Opening prayer
b) Two songs and sometimes a chorus
d) Third song. (Fourth song if the one song leader is leading who can't keep it to three songs.)
h) Dismissal prayer and altar call if the occasion calls for it.
Very rarely do we divert from that order. Once in a while, God comes on the service and interrupts our order and form; but service after service; that is the way it goes.
I find myself wondering it is truly a worship service, or if we are just there to check it off of our list for the week.
5) Concentration. I sometimes have a hard time reeling my thoughts in and focusing on the service. We are bombarded daily with so much"stuff" and it is hard to leave that outside the church door and forget about it for a couple of hours.
Plus, we are so geared for entertainment that it can be difficult to put aside our need to be entertained and just worship God.
6) I tend to focus too much on what I can get out of the service. We are there to worship God, but many of us tend to go with the selfish attitude of "what can church do for me" instead of "what can I put into the service."
7) Lack of fellowship. The youth do things outside of church, but anyone out of that age group do not. I wish we did, but the powers that be are afraid of going too far with that as some churches do.... so we do nothing.
I talk to people before and after church some, but that is the amount of fellowship I get at church.
8) Lack of community. Community is different from fellowship, and is more what the early church had.
I found this definition of church community, and though it is a bit long; I like it:
Community means availability. It means time spent together. Real time. Time for conversation, interaction, and a deepening of communion, of intimacy between 2 or more people. Community is never general or generic. It is always specific and definable by people spending time together. Now, time spent together does not guarantee community. There has to be a certain quality to the time spent together. Time doesn't guarantee it but it is a pre-requisite.
Community means vulnerability. If we aren't willing to open up our lives to others we will never experience true community. This is why mutual confession builds community. We come to the table with our strengths and our weaknesses and we lay ourselves bare, exposed to the scrutiny and more importantly the love, acceptance and forgiveness of others. This doesn't happen overnight nor should it. It needs to be a progressive deepening. People who lay themselves bare at a first encounter scare me. There is something unhealthy in over-exposure especially as a first approach. These things take time and discernment to know how much to share and when. Mistakes will made. Over-hiding and over-exposure will happen. There can be no set rule for such things. But if we expect to gain community and constantly flee vulnerability we will never have it.
Community means a shared life. This ties back in to availability but goes beyond it. Our life in one regard is made up of time. So if we want a shared life we must spend time together. Resources also need to be shared. Basically our checkbooks and our schedules can be a good gauge of community.
Community means stability. Benedict was a genius to introduce a vow of stability into his Rule. If we want to experience community we need to be rooted somewhere among some people. If we constantly move on in search of greener pastures we will not be around long enough to grow the roots necessary for community. Community can not happen on the fly.
9) I have no say. To vote and voice your opinion in business meetings, one must be a member of the church. I am not a member. To be one, I would have to change a few things I don't believe I need to change; and I would have to promise to obey all of the rules and doctrines of the church..... which I don't agree with 100% (but neither would I with ANY church).... so I am not allowed to join the church. My opinions don't matter, only those who are members and are on boards......... and I don't say that in a whining way...... it is just the way things are.
One might look at my list of why I don't like church and wonder why I still go there. And I can do it all at home anyway: sing, listen to a sermon......and be more comfortable while I do it. I like lists, so here is my list of why I still go to my church:
1) I am comfortable there and like the church.
2) I like my pastor.
3) I like my Sunday School class and teacher and find the class very helpful and relative.
4) I agree with my church on the important stuff...there is no way I'd find a church that I agree with 100%.
5) I like the people. Well, most of them. :)
6) I like our singing style. I prefer hymns with a few choruses thrown in, not all new worship choruses. I prefer a song leader over a worship leader and worship band gyrating on a stage. I prefer the singing to take up a small portion of the service, not half or more of it. I prefer a hymnal over words on a screen.
7) My family goes there. Yeah, that is important to me.
Looking at my lists, it sounds a bit self centered and selfish. All of my reasons pretty much revolve around me, how I feel, and what the church needs to do for me. Does my church need to change? Yes, a thousand times yes....... but so does every other church across the globe. There is no church that gets it right on everything, not even their doctrines and beliefs....even though most of them think they have the market on that.
I have seen many people leave the churches I have attended over the years. Some people become church hoppers, jumping from church to church; never being happy with one church for very long. I have heard the reasons people leave churches, and most of them come down to "me". Some may have very good reasons, but all too often it boils down to "me".
Me doesn't get used enough
Me doesn't like my Sunday School class
Me doesn't like the style of music
Me thinks the preacher preaches too long
And on we could go.
What would happen if we went to church expecting to get nothing out of it, but expecting to just worship God and put something INTO the service? What would happen if we realized what is most important about being in God's house...... that it isn't what we sing, it isn't about the color of the carpet, it isn't about everyone gathering around and patting us on the back.
It is about worshiping God.
It is about having a relationship with Jesus Christ, and going to His house to worship Him with other believers.
We can have all of the programs, fellowship, authenticity, sharing, Bible studies.... and if we don't have the right relationship with Jesus Christ, we won't be happy at any church.
If we focus on what we want and think we need from a church, we will never find the right church.
Because there is no perfect church.
Only Jesus can do that. Maybe, just maybe, if we made church all about Jesus; the rest wouldn't matter. It wouldn't matter if no one talked to us. It wouldn't matter if the song leader sang that song we don't like. It wouldn't matter if we didn't have any contact with the church or its people during the week.
I sometimes feel I am closer to God while driving in my car and listening to Christian music, or lying in my bed praying before I go to sleep, or walking on the bike trail with my iPod..... than I feel in church.
Maybe because in those times, it is just God and me. I can carry on private conversations with Him, sing along with the music, and not be surrounded by people.
We need church, but we don't have to be there every time the doors are open...... that kind of thinking is legalism. Being in church is not an indicator of one's relationship with God. It is how we live in the days between church services that is an indicator of our relationship with God.
It might be that if we took "me" out of the equation, all of us might be happier in church and with church.
So to answer that question why millennials..... why anyone... is leaving the church, here are my main reasons. Am I 100% correct? Nah, only God is 100%, but I think my reasons are valid: (and I am not ignoring there are good reasons people leave churches).
1) Self centered people, all about "me"
2) Lack of a real relationship with Jesus
3) A need to be entertained
4) A lack of desire to truly commit - commit to a church and/or God.
May God help me in this new year to lose the focus of what I need or think I need from church, and focus on Him and what He wants for me at church and in the days and hours between services.