My Highway Meditations Concerning Church Attrition

There I was looking at the GPS, while comparing it to my 2006 Atlas and looking for the right exit to turn into Butler, Pennsylvania. My destination? The church where at the age of 9 I followed the Lord in believer’s baptism. “Which is the right exit to get to Butler?” I thought to myself. Since I was pressed for time and it was getting dark I was concerned that I not take the wrong road to Butler. Then, as I pulled of Intestate 79, it became clear that Butler was not near the Interstate, but was about 20 miles off the highway. 

There was about 16 minutes before the service was to begin according to the church’s web site. The start time was for 6:00 pm. It was now about 5:44 pm. Would I make it in time? Much to my surprise the road into Butler was not a narrow, winding, back woods, Pennsylvania road. In contrast it was a four lane highway! That was great! I pressed on, soon coming to an end of the road that dumped me right into Butler.

Next obstacle to overcome: find the church. I had the address and was using the GPS. It seemed like the church should be easy to find. Time was short…now it was 5:59. “Where is that street?” I questioned the GPS. (It didn’t answer me, but I trusted it had me going the right way). I made the turn that the GPS indicated and soon I could see the Church a block ahead of me. “I will make it before they finish singing the opening hymn” I thought. Pulling up next to the curb, I looked as I approached the doors. They seemed to be closed. No surprise, the temperature was only about 30 degrees. After parking the car, I hopped out and headed toward the door…it was now 6:05…and as I reached out to take the handle, the lawn sign caught my eye. It read: “No Evening Service.”

“What?” I thought, the web site stated there was evening services. I had found the church building, but it did not meet up with what I really was looking for: the church family! I felt a sense of sadness. In the church, too, that is an experience not uncommon for many. Too many people finally arrive at the “door” of the church when they meet a believer who attends a particular church, or they come to a special activity, or they visit a home Bible Study group, but they do not find what they are looking for.

Allow me to draw a parallel about the situation in our churches today in the USA. It’s no mystery that the Christian church in the USA desperately ought to work hard to reach the unsaved, the un-churched and even those disappointed by the church. But, once a non-believer reaches the “door” (which may be a person, an activity or a ministry) they find that it is not what they were expecting. Through daily interaction with Christians from a local church or through the outreach programs many churches conduct, there are non-Christians that every day come away thinking, “That’s not what I was looking for.”

Is that an indictment of our Churches? Why are some of the non-believers unimpressed by what they see the first time come through the door of a Church? Can the church deliver that which they are looking for? What ought a non-Christian encounter when she or he finally gets close enough to our church family (be it through a friend, a special outreach or a ministry)? I think I am beginning to see why it is that some of our churches are more than half empty and why it is the world is not beating a path to our door. Here are few thoughts to help you look at what may need changing.

1.  A lack of Genuine Interest in the non-Christian. We tell the people around us that God loves them, yet we are unwilling to spend a Saturday afternoon (or possibly a Sunday afternoon!) to go out to the park and through a ball around with our neighbor and her children. We don’t have time to show love to the person outside our circle of friends. How can we expect them to believe that God loves them?

2.  We talk a different “language” than our non-Christian friends. Once we get to know a few people outside the Church walls, we find it hard to talk to them about the deeper issues of life. We don’t know where they are mentally and personally. That is normal in a casual encounter with a stranger, but it really should not be that way with the person who we work with every day, day in and day out. Nor should we be strangers with the person we see every weekend at the ball game. Ask questions and then listen! The best counselor (and the best witness) is the best listener.

3.  Our expectations of those not like us, as a person who doesn’t live his life in obedience to Christ, are too high: we think they should vote like us, act like and dress like us. Why is it we think that the unsaved person ought to be like us, for us to be comfortable in her or his presence? Helping that non-Christian feel at ease begins with putting the spiritual needs before their temporal and material needs. In other words, focus on what matters, and leave the rest (tattoos and all) until after the person has surrendered to Christ.

What are your expectations toward the non-Christian? Are they unrealistic?

What are your expectations toward the non-Christian? Are they unrealistic?

The ideas mentioned above are primarily (but not exclusively) related to our individual lives. Now I would like to focus on our CHURCHES. Buckle your seat belt!

4.  Give the pastors room to minister on Sunday. One of the lessons we constantly ingrain into our church family is that if you, as a Church member, have a need or a matter to talk to the pastor about, don’t expect to get the his exclusive attention on Sunday morning. Set up an appointment in the week, but on Sundays the pastor is going to focus on the visitor, on the new person or on the person struggling. He is available all week to minister to the church body, but on Sunday morning (typically the most attended service of the week), his focus is on reaching out the uncommitted or the weak believer.

5.  Never leave a guest standing alone. Introduce him or her to at least two other people so that they can help you integrate them into Church life. Look for someone near their age and especially the same gender (men with men, women with women). The goal: reduce as much as possible the people barriers that keep the unsaved or the unchurched away from your Church.

6.  Take your “welcoming committee” outside the Church walls and into the city. In other words, one way to show that new or unchurched people are welcomed at your church is to be involved in your town’s activities. That can be with a high school sports team, a Glee club or even a volunteer clean up day for the parks or highways. Show the town that your church cares about the issues they deal with every day. Then, when they ask where you’re from, don’t preach an hour sermon to them. Just say “we live in this town  just like you and have noticed that this street needed cleaning. I am your neighbor and I am concerned about my town too. I just want you to know that as a Christian, I am here to help, and so is my Church, the {__________} Church.” They will get the point. 

More about this in a future blog. I still have a great deal of time to meditate behind the wheel ahead of me! But, one thing is for sure: the next time I want to go to a church where I have not been in dozens of years, I will call them first! Guess even we believers can’t bank on what is on the web site of some of our Churches! And if we cannot, as believers, then what of the unbeliever?

Speaking the Truth in Love,

David L. Rogers, M.A. Min.

About David Rogers, Magister en Artes

Este blog nace de una profunda gratitud al Autor de la vida, al eterno "YO Soy," quien me dio todo lo que tengo y lo que soy. Sin El, nada sería. Pero como no todos en el mundo han llegado a conocerle, también procuro dar una razón por la fe que tengo. Es una razón no basada en emociones ni en la intuición o el esperar algo mejor. Sino la razón está fundamenta en la verdad eterna, que no es incambiable y que es defensible, la verdad de Dios, el Creador y Sustentador de este mundo. ** Para los que se dedican a las credenciales, aquí están las de este autor, profesor, y misionero: 35 años viviendo en un país adoptivo, 39 años esposo de una misma dama, padre de 4 hijos destacados, abuelo de 4 tiernos nietos, amigo y compañero de colaboradores que han visto mis fallas y aun me llaman su amigo. ENGLISH: This blog is born of deep gratitude to the Author of life, to the eternal "I Am," who gave me everything I have and what I am. Without Him, nothing would be. But as not everyone in the world has come to know him, I also try to give a reason for the faith I have. It is a reason not based on emotions or intuition or expecting something better. But the reason is based on the eternal truth, which is not unchanging and is defensible, the truth of God, the Creator and Sustainer of this world.   ** For those who are dedicated to credentials, here are those of this author, profesor, and missionary: 35 years living in an adoptive country, 39 years husband of the same lady, father of 4 outstanding children, grandfather of 4 sweet grandchildren, friend and partner of collaborators who have seen my failures and still call me their friend.
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