Faith Works 3-22-14
What churches need to know about not going to church
Last week, I talked about how church attendance often looks to those of us who have always gotten up and gone. We're "churched" people, as the phrase goes, and the churched often don't understand, or have never thought about, how church looks to the un-churched, or the de-churched.
Why do people NOT go to church? One obvious reason is that they don't believe in what churchgoers do, but that was a big part of last week's column: that's a small fraction of those not showing up anywhere on a weekend. So we can nod to the intentionally unchurched, and look more closely at reasons most folks might, but don't go.
First, they're tired. You really can't just sniff and frown at that one. Yes, grandma was dying of tuberculosis and still struggled up the steps in 1927 the day before she died (and probably gave TB to someone else), but judgmental stuff aside, they really are tired.
I see it, as a preacher, even among those who are in worship: it can be hard for folks to stay awake. I won't say I'm the best preacher in town, but I would hazard that I'm far from the most boring. Plus I have a disturbing tendency to walk away from the pulpit and up the aisle from time to time. IT DOESN'T MATTER. People, not the elderly, not the young, but everyday working folk struggle to stay awake while sitting for an hour.
Our culture has created new norms of work schedules and viewing habits that mean we are all tending to go around sleep deprived, averaging 6.5 hours of sleep where we are made to need 8 or more. This is a handicap when you hit what is often the one morning of the week that people have any say over whether or not they get up before 7:00 am. Lots of folks are very honest when they say they tried to sleep to 8:30, and suddenly realized it was 11 am.
Does this mean evening worship on Saturday or Sunday would help? Could be.
Another obstacle: work schedules do munch right across the week without regard to any one day. It's just not the case that anyone, not sports teams, schools, or most significantly, employers, will work around a Sunday morning for you. Some do, and sincerely: God bless them! But as a church body, we're forced to make shifts (some of which I mentioned last week) in our assumptions. Good, solid, community minded people just aren't going to be present 50 or more Sundays a year anymore. Again, multiple options become more important.
And last week's column garnered a comment that was very important, I thought (and thank you, Renate!): people are often sitting at home trying to understand the Bible, and worried about two things. First, will those in church judge them on the basis of appearances. I can answer that – yes, they will. To some degree, we all do this. Congregations should do a better job at this than they do, but there are very few places anymore that will be outright hostile if you don't dress up, etc. If you think "I may have people look at me funny" and that's a reason not to go, the fact of the matter is that entering any group or space or room, like visiting a neighborhood bar you've never been in before, is going to get you some looks. So that's why the only real solution to this one is for people to do more personal invitations, and to not only invite them, but to go to church WITH them. If you have a regular right by your side, the whole look/glance/question thing goes away. Boom!
The other worry, though, is more aimed at pastors and leaders: I am still learning the basics, some fear, and if I go to church, they all have the same translation (not the one I happened to have), they already know and sling the lingo, and are "ahead of me." Where can I go to not be an idiot for my questions?
Honestly, we're all beginners. Some of us have learned to fake it better. And there's a certain amount of in-group games going on with how we talk about the Bible, and beliefs, and our churches. I believe that our default assumption on EVERY Sunday morning should be "how does what I'm saying (announcements, greetings, sermon) sound to someone who's never been here?" We can fix that.
Next week, let's talk about why it matters to go to church at all.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him why you don't go to church at firstname.lastname@example.org