The Hufington Post recently picked up on some research from the Barna Group that should not surprise us. The HuffPo says: “Almost half of churchgoing Americans say their life has not changed a bit due to their time in the pews, a new survey shows.”
This is nothing new. In Ronald Sider’s 2005 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?, sider provocatively argues:
Once upon a time there was a great religion that over the centuries had spread all over the world. But in those lands where it had existed for the longest time, its adherents slowly grew complacent, lukewarm, and skeptical. Indeed, many of the leaders of its oldest groups even publicly rejected some of the religion’s most basic beliefs.
Another book from 2005, Alan Wolfe’s The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith makes the same argument. Wolfe, not a Christian, had this to say of American Christianity at-large:
in every aspect of the religious life, American faith has met American culture – and American culture has triumphed. Whether or not the faithful ever were a people apart, they are so no longer.
Just in case you might be worried that this is simply a 2005 opinion, Kenda Creasy Dean, in her 2010 book Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling The American Church, writes:
Let me save you some trouble. Here is the gist of what you are about to read: American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith – but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable enough to survivie long after they graduate from high school.
One more thing: we’re responsible.
And now in 2012, HuffPo continues:
In a finding sure to disappoint pastors, three out of five church attenders said they could not recall an important new religious insight from their last church visit. Of those who attended in the previous week, 50 percent could not recall walking away with a significant new understanding.
What’s the problem? Church attendance is not the issue because each author speaks of people who “attend” church with little to no discernible difference in their life. The problem could be that there is not enough teaching in our churches. Or the problem could be that the teaching we have is too shallow, too man-centered.
Or the problem could be deeper. Perhaps the issue is with the idea of “church attendance” itself? The very notion of simply attending church simply reinforces the idea that we are consumers and that “church” exists to dispense spiritual goods, which are a nice add-on to our lives that requires no real commitment.
But Jesus seemed to operate with different assumptions. Jesus says in Mark 8:34-37 that if we want to follow Him, we must deny ourselves and that if we love Him, we will obey Him (John 14:15). James says: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). This doesn’t sound like merely attending church.
We need to move beyond just attending church to being the church, to being and proclaiming good news; loving and serving the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40). Living this kind of life will change us. Sitting in a pew once a week (or more) is not likely to change us.
Jesus did not come so that we could hear about Him and do nothing with it. Jesus came calling us to follow Him and make disciples who learn to obey Him (Matthew 28:18-20). What if we moved beyond the notion of attending church and asked people to actually be the church, would we continue to see articles like this?
Jesus wants you to stop simply attending church.