''Church'' Sucks- Here Are the Numbers to Prove It
Church sucks. That's the conclusion I've come to after about a year of personal, anecdotal research and looking up a whole bunch of Pew research polls about the belief in God, church attendance, and their correlation and disparity. Let me be clear Church (as in the body of Jesus followers) doesn't suck. Church services and the way we, here in America (and a majority of 'developed' countries) do 'church', sucks. If it didn't suck, we'd see more people hungry and thirsty to attend church whenever and wherever it happened but just the opposite is happening.
The dominant culture church experience, as it is today, is perfectly tailored for evangelical, culturally white, conservative, married, middle aged, middle class, citizens with school aged children (kinder-college). If you fit into that demographic, church may be amazing for you! If you are an outlier in any of the mentioned demographics you might feel like an outsider even if you desire to be connected to a church community. You are not alone.
The lie is we are living in a post-God era. The truth is we are living a post-b.s. era. According a 2014 Pew Research Center survey (links below), 38% of Millennials attend religious services once or twice a month and 28% attend at least once a week. That means that 66% of Millennials attend religious services with some sort of monthly regularity. 67% of Millennials say religion is either very or somewhat important to them. 71% of those Millennials surveyed say they are absolutely or fairly certain they believe in God. A majority of young people who live in the United States still believe (to varying degrees) in God. That's HUGE! We often are fed the misinformation that Millennials are just not that into God. Not true. Not true at all. Too often people mix up God with Church. Young people are just not that into church because of the way church is structured.
An Unlikely Blessing
Coming to faith in my early-mid twenties was a blessing because I wasn't steeped too deeply in any particular denomination or way of thinking. Growing up, I attended Catholic school as a non-Catholic. My mother studied with Jehova's Witnesses for a season, was baptized a pentecostal, and really didn't force religion down my throat. We went to church occasionally and when was asked at an early age if I wanted to be baptized, I said no because I was deathly afraid of water at the time. I'm glad she didn't force me because my conversion moment was all the more real and meaningful to me when it happened.
I've always been a question asker and most of the arguments in the early years of my relationship with my then-boyfriend-now-husband were spiritual in nature. Much of the mindless tradition of church is why I waited so long to give my life over to Christ. I specifically remember having an argument early on in my coming to faith with my husband about the inappropriateness of my wearing thong underwear to church. He won. I stopped wearing underwear on Sundays in protest of his ridiculous request. I challenged and challenged and probably frustrated the hell out of my husband in our early years of marriage but I was never one for much hullabaloo in any aspect of my life. And there were some things he was 100% right about and I submitted and there were things I was 100% right about and he submitted. That's why we're still together 13 years later- mutual love, respect, and submission toward one another.
I couldn't wrap my mind around things like genuflecting and recitation of creeds outside of the Bible, I couldn't understand why "secular" music was bad. Why couldn't I have a glass of wine in the church basement at my wedding? Why did a choir director feel the need once to address the female singers about the state of their nipples and almost demand that all female choir members wear padded bras or 'petals' to cover up erect nipples? Why were the nipples and knees (they had a thing with knee-baring skirts too) that my God had given me so problematic?
For a season I worked in a Christian school that was literally the movie Footloose. No dancing. No spaghetti straps on prom dresses. They actually stopped having prom because they couldn't come to a consensus about how much of a young girl's shoulder could be visible. They kicked the pregnant girl from school because administration believed others might get pregnant (as if pregnancy was some virus running rampant). The principal/superintendent acquiesced to letting her back after the board and administration began to receive complaints. That place was soul-sucking. Later I came to find out the pastor was having an affair with a woman to whom he was giving 'marriage counseling'.
Then there's the every American church service structure- welcome, 3-ish songs (fast to slow), announcements, offering, sermon (30-45 minutes), closing song, benediction, and maybe an altar call. There's also a uniform nowadays. The uniform depends on what culture and type/denomination of church you enter. Everything from broom skirts to torn skinny jeans. Oh yeah, my favorite touch- purple stage lights. That seem to be fairly universal.**
Had I become a follower of Jesus earlier on, in my more formative years, all of this would have been my normal. I would've questioned very little about what I was immersed in. My chronologically late coming to faith was a true gift because the indoctrination of religiosity hadn't had time to set in and weave itself into the fabric of my experience.
This is Not an Apologetic for Comfort's Sake
Young people have access to to a deluge of information at their fingertips. Millennials (of which I am an elder) are more savvy than the generation before. Church, so staunchly resolute in what is truth and so deeply steeped in tradition for tradition's sake is repulsive to many. Now what this post is not, is an apologetic striving to convince our present day spiritual leaders to altar the way we do church as a means to make us millennials feel more comfortable. No. Church leaders, (one of which I was in a traditional sense for almost a decade) even the newest of Jesus followers can pick up on the gimmicky things you're doing to try to attract and keep them in the four walls of your church. They can see through meet and greets, fancy logo'd t-shirts and free wholesale coffee mugs.
Church leaders and administration understand the tradeoff- visitors' information, (which is gold for congregations trying to increase their numbers) in exchange for these menial enticements. Many often play along because maybe, just maybe if they put up with all the to-do around church that they'll encounter the true and living God. I'm confident there are many people who want a relationship with God, but who find themselves done with religion.
That means we, the ones who feel called to lead, have to take a look at how we fundamentally 'do' church. Why are we as leaders so rigid when we claim to follow Jesus who, anecdotally, was anti-establishment. He taught to the crowd AND the individual. He corrected in love. He never damned anyone to hell (he spoke on hell and warned of its permanence but didn't damn individual souls while on earth) but rather spoke of relationship, modeled relationship with his disciples, and suggested that people exercise their free will regarding whether or not to follow him. He was so very passionate about justice- not afraid to turn a table when people were using the temple for earthly gains. The very essence of Jesus was counter-cultural and he only adhered to traditions that were ordained by his Father. He challenged the Pharisees when they would often come to him about upholding traditions; harshly rebuking them. Take a look at this exchange about hand washing.
Jesus continues in Mark 7:8-
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.'11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
Tradition is not the issue. The prioritizing of human tradition over God's commands is the issue. In this passage, Jesus was talking to the Pharisees, the holy men (equivalent to todays priests and pastors). This is a good reminder to think about the things we do in church and examine if we are setting aside God's commands and replacing them with meaningless traditions. In the above passage we see Jesus pointing out the hypocrisy of how the Pharisees operated. It's time for traditions to die that nullify the word of God. It's not good enough to continue doing things a certain way just because 'that's how it's always been done'. If that is how we're choosing to live out our relationship with Christ, we're missing so much of the nuance of God's non-traditional, unconventional love for each of us.
** Update: I recently attended a church that had BLUE stage lights, not purple......it was extremely refreshing.
What are some church traditions that do indeed align with God's Word?
What are some that you either grew up adhering to or observed in the past or present that you sense do not align with God's Word?
Have a conversation with God about the traditions you choose to uphold in your life-spiritual/faith related/ familial. Allow God the space to talk to you about their meaningfulness or effectiveness and if you should or shouldn't be upholding those particular traditions.
Keyword Biblical Lookup Jesus, Pharisees, Tradition, The love of Christ, The Law
Feelin' kinda strange? Compelled to do something but don't know what? Check this post out. It might just help you make sense of things.