Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Why People Don't Attend Church

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Imagine are driving down the road and you see a sign outside a house that says, "Join us for a free supper every Monday night." Would you go? Maybe if you were really hungry or very lonely. But odds are you wouldn't even think twice about the offer. Why? Well, you don't know what's going to happen. You don't know if you'll fit in. You don't want to go and feel trapped. Plus, what if the food is bad?

If you could just go, eat and leave without any further commitment, you might consider it. But what are the chances of that happening? There's probably a catch. People don't typically offer free meals. Even if you heard that there is not a catch, the people are really nice and the food is fantastic, you might still not go. You just don't want to feel awkward or like you are taking advantage of them.

I think these same feelings are why many people don't attend church. There are obviously other reasons (and I'll get to them) but these are the most basic ones. It's especially awkward if you don't have any church experience. You don't know what to expect and you don't want to stand out as a novice. As good as the church service might be and no matter how many people recommended it, you choose to stay home.

Lesson: If the neighborhood diner wants me to come, there are a few things he/she could do. One, if I could meet the home owner outside of the dinner context that would help - less pressure. Or maybe they could have the meal outside so I can stop casually and keep going. Or putting a brochure in my hand that explains what the dinner is all about would help me better understand what goes on and why.

In the same way, churches need to break down the discomfort factor to encourage people to join them. People often ask me how they can get their friend to come to church. I tell them that the best first step is to get the church to them. A website is a great entry point to experience a church in the comfort of your home. On the Cedarbrook site, you can request a free dvd with a recorded service and an interview with me. That way your first experience at church isn't completely new. We also take "church" to the park once or twice in the summer. People can stand back and simply observe what a service looks like from afar. And we have done special productions at the local theatre during the holidays.

If churches expect people to always come to them, they might be waiting a long time. That's fairly presumptuous. They have to give people a reason to come, not just expect them to show up because "it's the right thing to do." And the reason has to be strong enough to overcome the discomfort factor.

Stay tuned for more thoughts on why people don't attend church.

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