Nearly 18 months ago I began grappling with reasons why most (around 90%) of Australians don’t go to church. I settled on 13 key reasons why I think this is the case. Here’s where you can find the first 7 reasons. Below are the other 6.
Again, I want to clarify that I’m not trying to judge people who don’t go to church. I am trying to think hard and wide about why they don’t. And I’m not trying to be negative about the church either. I love the church. I love my church. And I’d love to think how the church can respond to the challenges it faces. I’ll get to that in a future post. But here are the final reasons I offer. Make of them what you will:
- IT’S OFFENSIVE
There are many churches which have watered down the radical claims of the Bible to accommodate contemporary hang-ups about Christianity. These churches go to great efforts to attract people with a very warm and ‘positive’ message that is careful not to offend.
But it’s hard to avoid the fact that the average person who lives in our post-enlightenment, post-modern world, will find many biblical teachings offensive.
The Bible teaches that all people are sinful and under the condemnation of God. It teaches that trusting and following Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. Lying, fornicating, lusting, adultery, greed, and gay sex are sinful. Hell is real. God’s in charge, and you’re not.
Offended yet? Many people are. That’s one reason they don’t go to church.
- A CROWDED MARKETPLACE
The world is a very connected, global community where a huge variety of ideas are shared and believed. Nearly every idea imaginable is on the menu now. There are all the religious options – Catholicism, varieties of Protestantism, Mormonism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and a fistful of Eastern religious/philosophical systems. There are also many political views, and views about what ‘the good life’ looks like.
It’s all there. It’s legion. And in the middle of this marketplace of ideas is a group that believes a Palestinian Jewish Rabbi died, was raised to life, and now rules over the world from the heavenly realms. That’s all fine. But what about all these other ideas?
I’m not saying that Christianity isn’t rational. It’s just that the church is trying to communicate some big, complicated stuff in a massive marketplace of ideas. The product, in my view, is good. But the market is flooded.
- MAJORITY RULES
A few years back my wife and I were looking for a nice Indian restaurant in West End, Brisbane. We found two. One was dead empty, even though they were open and the lights were on. The other was 75% full. We went there. Why? Because seeing how many people had made the choice to eat there suggested to us that while we didn’t really know much about either restaurant, this busier one must be a little better. Maybe a lot better.
When it comes to church, most people don’t know many (or any) people who regularly go to church. It’s just not a ‘restaurant’ that they or anyone they know ‘eats at.’ But the all-pervasive individualistic pursuit of happiness and prosperity is something their friends are into. That restaurant is packed.
They see the church, with its hymns and rules and expectations. It meets on a Sunday morning – a time when they’re not very cognizant. And it’s just not attractive.
But there’s a coffee shop just down the road that’s open on a Sunday morning.
Let’s eat there, honey.
- ANTI-SCIENCE THINKING
Science is amazing. It’s a search for the truth of the physical universe. And Christians should be people who love and hunger for truth, wherever it is. But that’s not how some Christians think.
I know that science (like most things in this world) is influenced by all sorts of societal, political, and financial pressures. But sometimes there seems to be a wholesale rejection of anything that comes out of the mouths of scientists. It’s a kind of grand conspiracy theory – as if the scientific establishment is trying to pull the wool over our eyes and lead us to child sacrifice and devil worship.
Ironically, when these same Christians who are hyper-sceptical about science get sick, they turn to medical science very quickly.
If the church is even remotely anti-science, most educated, thinking people in the West are simply going to shake their head and laugh.
That’s right. One reason people don’t go to church is honesty.
What I mean is, once upon a time here in Australia lots of people went to church because they felt it was the ‘right thing to do.’ They wanted to be seen as a good responsible person, and that was once associated with church attendance.
But not anymore.
Declining church numbers in the West is partly the result of people realizing that you can be a pretty decent person without going to church. And if you really don’t believe in resurrections and angels and Holy Spirits, it’s probably a good idea to not pretend you do. Hence, many people who don’t attend church are simply being honest. They don’t believe it. So they won’t act like they do.
One reason I’m pretty sure that a few people don’t go to church is actually . . . me. Since I became a Christian in my late teens I have said and done some pretty stupid stuff. Offensive, ignorant, insensitive stuff. Not to deliberately annoy people or put them off. But I did.
On the off-chance you’re one of those people, I’m sorry. Really.
I need to do some deep reflection on myself and my life. I need to daily focus on Jesus, who is my life-giving Lord. He’s my master and my model. I need God’s grace and help to be more like him, and less like the insensitive buffoon I have often been.
And all Christians need to examine themselves along these lines. We need to be realistic about ourselves. The reason that some people don’t go to church is simply that they’ve known a ‘Christian’ who was really unpleasant or rude or uncaring in some way.
Often the reasons for dwindling church attendance is not ‘out there’, but within the church itself. Within us. Within me.
Let’s pray that God shakes up his church moves us to a confidently humble faith that is equipped to face the complex challenges of our time. Pray that we’ll not compromise on the truth, but live as authentic communities of redeemed sinners who are learning what it means to follow our loving, living Lord.
Let’s pray that the church will get better at proclaiming the good news about Jesus. And let’s pray that by the Holy Spirit’s power working through his people and their gospel witness, that our churches fill up. Let’s pray these tired buildings will be packed to the brim.
Grace and peace,