Instead of attracting people, churches are driving them away! What’s up with that?

Many Modern Churches Are Driving People Away From God

By Rev. Paul J. Bern

today's church
today’s church

It has been my observation for quite some time now that the majority of modern churches (regardless of denomination) who portray themselves as “evangelical” or “seeker friendly”, are unintentionally driving people away while claiming to do the opposite! I’ve had a long time to consider how to put together a rebuttal to these kinds of churches without making the holier-than-thou folks really upset. After some analysis I have come to the conclusion that it is simply not possible in this case. So instead of pandering to these types of ‘Christians’, I’m simply going to post and publish the unvarnished truth, warts and all. After all, the Bible does say explicitly in both the Old and New Testaments that “judgment will begin in the house of the Lord.” So have I now appointed myself judge, jury and executioner over these churches? On the contrary, I would be derelict in my duty as a Christian man in a position of leadership if I did not point these things out!

In the first place, there is a whole lot more to the teachings of Christ than simple blind obedience. On the contrary, God wants us all to have a choice, that’s why He gave us all the freedom to choose in life. So for a religion to not be intellectually challenging and stimulating is to be contrary to the intentions of God. Secondly, it is equally difficult for any church or minister to proclaim themselves as leaders and visionaries when life is about to be discovered on other planets. Organized religion continues to teach that only man was made in the image and likeness of God, implying that Earth is the only place in the universe where life can exist. When life is finally discovered on another planet in our own solar system, which is inevitable, what will the mainline church denominations do then? As for myself, I would continue worshiping God through Jesus Christ just like always. In fact, I would praise God all the more because He saw fit to populate as many other planets, and many of their moons, as He saw fit. For the universe is the Lord’s, and everything in it!

But, chances are that if you are in your 30s and younger, you are not a member of any church. In a single generation, the Christian church dropout rate has increased five-fold. In the past 20 years, the number of American people who say they have no religion has doubled and has now topped 15 percent. Those numbers are concentrated in the under-30 population. The polling data continues to show that a dramatic exit is taking place from American Christian churches. Beyond those numbers, denominations across the board are acknowledging loss of membership, but it is worse than they are reporting. Many churches report numbers based on baptized members, yet actual Sunday morning attendance doesn’t come close to those numbers. Simply put, denominations are no longer a reliable source of their own membership information. The mega-church movement also has flattened, with people leaving as fast as they are recruited. The only real growth among Christians appears to be in the home church movement in which small groups of independent believers gather in a house to worship.

While the polling numbers are in, the debate about the reasons why is only just beginning. When a pollster asks if a person has left the Christian church, the answer usually starts out being answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’. However, when the pollster asks why, the answers become mushy and the numbers lose their significance. Why are people leaving churches so fast? I am not a pollster, but rather an observer of the American religious scene. While I am heavily involved in Christianity as a minister, published author, and with political activism, my impressions are anecdotal and not scientific. I receive personal responses to my blogs, and I carry on conversations with a steady flow of people by e-mail or over the phone. I believe we church people and clergy need to look at ourselves for many of the reasons for the decline in membership. I realize there are some smug and self-righteous Christians everywhere who will take offense at what I write and say. All that notwithstanding, there are three main reasons, as I see it, that people everywhere are abandoning churches and organized religion in droves. Allow me to offer these observations:

[1] Churches are no longer intellectually challenging. More and more of our young people are college-educated and in the future even more must and will accept the challenge of post-high school education. They are thinking people who are expanding the limits of their curiosity and knowledge. Many young people often conclude that they know more than the person in the pulpit and are not willing to accept the church’s rigid catechism, an educational method that teaches the religious questions and the correct answers. As an educational tool, catechism is outdated and provides no challenge to students eager to question and discuss. Ministers must re-establish themselves among the leaders of the intellectual community. It is our responsibility, whether one is a pastor or a janitor or anywhere in between, to LEAD!

[2] Churches are no longer leaders in moral and ethical discussions. Young people from every state in the country have grown weary of churches that cannot get past secondary issues such as homosexuality and abortion. I was once a member of a church for a brief period, until one Sunday in early November when everyone received a flyer with their church bulletin that specified who they should vote for that following Tuesday. The very next week I went and found a better church. To this day, I don’t think anyone in that first church I attended has any idea why I left. This was, for me, a glaring example of how utterly clueless some modern Christians can be. Twenty-first century church drop-outs are still very interested in alternatives to the selfish, hedonistic society portrayed on television. Justice is high on their agenda, and they are clearly looking for opportunities for public service. Today’s young people want to be involved in solving environmental problems and in peacemaking. By contrast, pizza parties and rock concerts – techniques that have been used to make churches appear more relevant to the young – are not high on the agenda of young people concerned about society’s deep-seated problems. In other words, too many churches are concerned about same-sex marriage when the preacher should be talking about the unacceptability and immorality of the American Empire’s global war machine. What about that, ministers?

[3] Churches are no longer visionary. They have remained focused on offering rituals tied to perpetuating theologies that no longer seem relevant to many people, including myself. Churches are no longer significant players in shaping the life of our communities. If ministers and churches will not lay out what the kingdom of God on earth might actually look like, young people will continue to look elsewhere for other models. In that sense, I am less concerned about the young adults who are leaving the churches than the churches they are leaving behind. It’s up to us to shepherd the flock. If church leadership doesn’t step up to the plate and take some swings, the people they are supposed to be ministering to will go find themselves a better ball game.

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