Friday, March 27, 2009

"Saying no to church"

I was reading my local newspaper this evening and this article caught my eye. I tried to find an online version to share with you, but it wasn't available, so I'll just type it here for you:


For five decades and in growing numbers, American Christians have been saying no to Sunday church. I think it is time we listened.

We have labeled them "unchurched", "nonbelievers", "former Christians", "happy pagans", "lost", and a "mission field" that's "ripe for harvest". These negative terms imply that the absent have a flaw that needs to be addressed.

New congregations have harvested some of these former mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churchgoers. But even their numbers rise and fall - especially when the founding pastor slips up or retires, and the overall trend in church participation remains down. In some Western states, Sunday churchgoing has fallen below 10 percent of the population.

When this slide commenced in 1964 as baby boomers began graduating from high school, many church leaders didn't even acknowledge it. For years, they kept counting the absent as present. Then, when the losses couldn't be ignored, they blamed them on whatever hot-button issues were roiling the religious establishment, as if new liturgies, women in the leadership, and liberals (or conservatives, take your pick) had driven people away.

We need to see that these "formers" aren't saying not o God, or to their Christian identity, or to their yearning for faith. Many are simply saying no to Sunday church.

They are expressing a preference for something other than getting up early on Sunday, driving across town, sitting in a pew for an hour or more, making small talk with people they don't really know, and driving home again.

They are saying no to Sunday, the only day they can get a slow start in this everyone-works-hard era.

They are saying no to being an audience in an age of participation and self-determination.

They are saying no to institutional preaching, repetitive liturgies, and assemblies controlled by small cadres usually older than themselves.

They are saying no to being told what to believe.

They are saying no to having their questions ignored.

Instead, they find spiritual enrichment on the Internet and on television. They read faith-related books. They pray on their own. They find their own networks of faithful friends.

The problem isn't their faith. The problem is Christianity's delivery system. We are stuck in trying to lure people to physical locations at a time of our choosing, to do what we think they ought to do, and to be loyal in paying for it. It is time we looked beyond the paradigm of Sunday church.

I think the future lies in "multichanneling": a combination of on-site, online, workplace and at-home offerings that create networks of self-determining constituents, many of whom might never attend Sunday church.

The first challenge, however, is to recognize how deeply wedded we are to Sunday on-site participation as the only true expression and measure of faithfulness. Almost everything about our institutions - facilities, ordination training, staffing, budgeting - aims to draw people to a central location on Sunday.

We need to see that what works for some doesn't work for others. Not because the others are flawed, nor because our culture has collapsed and turned against God, but because things change. Just as Jesus took his ministry out of the synagogue and radically rethought the meaning of Sabbath, so God is drawing us away from "former things", even ones we treasure and consider our duty.

Article in The Huntsville Times, Friday March 27th, 2009 edition.

Author: Tom Ehrich is an Episcopal priest based in New York. His web-site is

This article saddens me so because the majority of people, it seems, think that church is only a one day a week event that has to take place in a building. We are called to live, to be the church - not go to it. This is something that has burdened not only myself, but several people close to me. We all are praying about how to actually "Be the Church" on a daily basis. I don't think there is anything wrong with a weekly meeting or assembling of believers. That is biblical. However, the place, the size of the place, the quality of accommodations isn't what is important. We are to get together to worship, to pray, to encourage one another. I don't think that it's limited to one day a week to do that (see verses below). I don't think that it's limited to one place. In fact, I think the more often we can get together for that purpose, the better! If we are consistently gathering together to worship our Creator, pray for one another and encourage one another with the Scripture, then I think we are more likely to be the living church that God wants us to be. I agree with the author of the above article in that many people are disillusioned with church. It's because the church is not functioning properly. So what do we need to do to change it? Again, that's what I'm praying about and I know several others are as well. Join me in that prayer, would you? Also, if you would like, share your insights with me.

Let me encourage you with these verses: Acts 2:42-47

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."


Anonymous said...

I also read the article in the Huntsville Times. I Googled it -- And I found the article that you typed.

I agree with the author "that what works for some doesn't work for others." Some of us have health problems or other issues that prevent us from attending institutional church services -- this of course does not make us bad! There are many other ways to worship. "On-site participation" on Sunday is not the only true expression and measure of faithfulness.

Christy said...

Anon- thanks for your comment. I searched the online version of our newspaper for the article. I didn't go so far as to google it, but should have. Thanks for letting me know it's out there. I also went to the author's website, but didn't see any reference to the article there.

Melissa said...

I was saddened, too, to read that people are justifying not having church services in general. I agree that the "church" is not a building, but the people who make up the "church."

I think attending (if at all physically possible, and not because you'd rather sleep in late) is biblical and what the Lord has commanded us to do. Coming together once a week or more is what helps us strengthen our walk from week to week when we meet with fellow believers.

Too many times people let that once a week meeting be their only worship for the week, and that is probably where people have seen the apathy and fakeness of church goers, therefore discouraging them from darkening the doors of a church building, because they don't see the point of "putting in their time" if it doesn't have some real effect on people's lives during the week.

I personally look forward to the worship time with fellow believers and hearing the word through song and sermon. It encourages me and I have never looked forward to it more than I do now. I know our church is not a perfect church by any means, but I do find myself hungering for the word and being present more than I ever have in my life because it encourages me and uplifts me.

I definitely don't think we as churches do our "job" enough as "being the church" to others during the week...aka being the hands and feet of Jesus...near as much as we should. As much I look forward to coming together and worshipping with my church family, I am also appalled at the apathy and disinterest in other's lives of doing this. I have to constantly remind myself, though, to take my eyes OFF people and focus them on JESUS...or I get in the flesh and I miss the point altogether.

Sorry for the novel...but that's my two cents. :)

Billy Coffey said...

I know a lot of Christians who choose not to go to church for a variety of reasons, some good and others not so good. I think that the community element of attending church can't be stressed enough. The friendships and fellowship that is developed there turn into lasting relationships for a lot of people, and that's good to have when life suddenly goes from sunshine to rain.

Thanks for this post. Very thought-provoking.

katdish said...

Can any of us (particularly in the US) really be like the Acts 2:42 church? Boy, am I praying that we can! We are attempting to at our little church plant.

Thank you for this post, Christy. Very thought provoking, indeed!

Christy said...

Billy, thanks for stopping by. I understand the importance of being involved with a local body of believers. It was literally a life-saver for me a couple of years ago when I was suicidal! If it weren't for the loving church family that I have insisting on not giving up on me, I would have literally given up on myself.

Katdish, I believe with all of my heart that it's doable for Americans even today to be the church as Christ commanded. He doesn't ask us to do anything that He isn't willing and able to equip us to do. Thanks for your comment.

Mark (under construction) said...

Thanyou for the resource Christy ... It's kinda where I am comming from in an Australian way .. I am not anti established Church but I would like the Church to stop and reflect why they do the things they do ...

Get away from the attractional model and get beleivers out into the highways and byways, where we work and play revealing to others that the Kingdom of God is here.