The study also found that half of Canadian teens "never" go to church, while 25% of adults admit the same. And though many of us claim to be "churched," we avoid going to services. Why?
Here are some contributing factors I hear about or experience: (I'll put these in the first person, though not all are my experiences.)
- What about the Bible? We haven't heard more than a few verses over the past few months. Nothing they talk about afterwards has anything to do with those verses. Mostly, our pastor posts the references on the screens and hopes we read it ourselves.
- Church people assume we know what they're talking about. They use words they've never explained to us. Their ideas of "holiness" and "partaking" and "fellowship" seem weird since we don't know what they mean. Why can't they talk like normal people?
- We make the effort to get to church on a Sunday when our neighbors are sleeping in. We expect to make friends with other attendees. But we don't know anyone personally, even after months of attending. No one seems to notice or care if we're there or not. Sure, the greeters shake our hands and smile as we come into the foyer, but my family and I sit with people we don't know. They barely acknowledge our existence. Everyone lets us walk out the door without another personal interaction. (Oh, maybe the greeters wave at us as we leave.)
- We're not used to karaoke, but we hum along with the band on the stage. It's a bit uncomfortable, but not a big deal - no one else is singing. Most of us are staring at words on a screen while we enjoy the music and watch the performers. The singers are in their own world, lifting their hands, swaying, talking at us from a distance. What's the point for us?
- We've come because of a Christian holiday we remember from another tradition (maybe when we were kids), like Ash Wednesday, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Advent, or Christmas. We remember these times as sacred highlights for Christians, but our church acts as though it's just another Sunday. (Easter and Christmas may be the exception, though some Christmas performances are more like a Broadway musical than religious ceremonies.)
- Where's the mystery? The grace? The supernatural? We're disappointed when God and Jesus are passing ideas in the weekly lecture and musical show. Why bother showing up? The plays, bands, and lecturers are better in theaters and concert venues.
- We really want religious instruction. We thought maybe Jesus would inform our journey, messed up as we are. We were hoping the Bible would get us back on track or at least bring peace. But the speaker reads a few verses or a paragraph from the Bible. Then he or she gives suggestions for family life from pop-psychology or offers ideas for financial success and happiness from self-help books. (We can read that kind of advice anywhere. And let's face it, Oprah has way better self-help guests and gurus on her show than our local church does.) We're starving for biblical content. We wish a thoughtful, life-long student of scripture would show up week after week. Maybe he or she could help us understand what the Bible says about God and Jesus so we could apply his wisdom to our lives.
- Our pastor rides a hobby horse. He seems interested in a few of Christ's teachings, but doesn't talk much about the rest of what Jesus said and did. Besides, the people we know from church don't live out what they hear in real life. I know some who lie, steal, cheat... but smile and shake hands with everyone at church as though they're perfect. They disappoint us and we don't want to hang out with them.
- We let someone know when we were ill/ having a baby/ having a family crisis/ lost our jobs. No one called or came to visit.
- What difference does it make if we show up or stay home? It's easier to sleep in or skip. No one will know the difference.
But let's be honest. In a healthy family, everyone participates rather than acting like spectators. We show up for meals because we're part of the family. The food's not always great (especially if it's our turn to cook). Not everyone is happy or cheery all the time. Along the way, we learn to do chores and lend a hand rather than expecting everyone to focus just on us.
If we go to church, let's participate in a community of faith. Nourish and care for others as well as enjoy the benefits. Ask good questions and find answers in Scripture. Support the community financially, spiritually, and socially as the friendly, generous, and welcoming person who invites strangers into the Family.
See you Sunday!