Why don’t Christians go to church? You’d think, of all people, they would. But they don’t. Not all of them.
A recent survey by the Barna Group reported that though 83% of American adults claim to be Christian, they are counted among the 28% of Americans who don’t go to church. Four out of ten who were surveyed say that the reason is because they’ve had a “negative experience” at church or with “church people.”
This stood out to me because there was a time that I would’ve counted myself in the same group – claiming to be Christian but refusing to go to church. It’s not that I didn’t like my church growing up. I still have friends with whom I keep in touch (via. social media). However, the problem I had wasn’t so much the people but particular teachings with which I disagreed, but was told I couldn’t because “the Bible says”, foremost of which was that women couldn’t be ordained and that of a worldview split between the saved-and-going-to-heaven and the not-and-going-to-hell.
Consequently, I quit going. Period. And yes, college was to “blame” as some preachers are wont to warn their high school seniors before they leave. But if it was to blame for introducing me to different worldviews, lifestyles, religious practices, empowered women, social justice, and universal truths, then thank you, college.
But even as my worldview expanded, my sense of humanity, my sense of love and respect, I still felt something was missing, and that something was church. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to go back, because I believed that all churches treated women as subordinate males and preached in a way that scared you away from hell rather than led you toward the Kingdom of Heaven.
Still, my heart yearned to hear the Word of God preached, to sing the old hymns, to pray as part of a community, and serve a greater purpose.
Eventually, I found myself in a Presbyterian church, where I just so happened to be served communion by ordained female deacons and elders, and where I heard a message about salvation by Grace, and Grace alone. Where I was told that we aren’t all perfect, we’re just called to try and make this world a better place – where the emphasis in life wasn’t living in a way that got us into heaven, but that made it “on earth (and for it’s people) as it is in heaven.”
Today I find myself pastoring a Presbyterian Church because I realized that what had turned me away from the “church” wasn’t true of all churches. As Presbyterians we strive for a truly representative government that reflects the make up of our congregation – young and old, male and female, et al. And we believe that salvation comes through the Grace of God alone, such that we don’t worry who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell; instead, we strive for an evangelism and social justice that proclaims the the Kingdom of Heaven for all the peoples of the earth while condemning the hellish practice of the earth. Sure we look with hope to the fulfillment of that Kingdom, but as we do, we practice it in the here and now, not postpone it for the afterlife.
As I came to discover, it’s like this: Maybe you’ve just come out of a bad relationship. You move on to another, but it’s no better. So you stop. But you’re miserable. You want companionship. You want love. So do you stop trying? Maybe. But what do you do? Based on the hurts through which other individuals have put you, you miss out on finding yourself in the perfect relationship – you miss out on finding that one person who will love you unconditionally, who will bring out the best in you.
So you’ve had a bad experience at church. It somehow “hurt” you by telling you where your proper place was, silencing your voice, ignored your need. Move on. Find another, because just as all relationships aren’t the same, so too are those we find with church. I did. And I love being a part of my church as we encourage and pray for each other, as we serve together, trying to make the world around us a little more like that Kingdom we are called to proclaim.
Thus, let me ask you this:
If you’re an unchurched Christian, what keeps you away?
Do you miss it?
What would bring you back?
I’ve shared my experience. Hope you share yours as a comment below! (And if you’re looking for a church, check out mine.)