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.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Maybe You're a Reformer at Heart

Have you ever wondered what's wrong with you? Why you don't fit in? Why the crowd seems to be so content while you sit back with your unanswered questions? I have.

In fact, the other day I was speaking with a pastor friend of mine and we both shared our reservations about church - an odd thing for pastors to admit. But we both felt like we are often out of step with the masses. Most of what exists as church today only frustrates us. Then we fall into the guilt of feeling like there must be something wrong with US. Why are we so critical? Can't we just be happy with the way things are?

If you share my discontent, take heart. You may not be as big of a misfit as you think. What might be happening is that YOU see things clearly. Rather than let your discontent repel you from the church and learn to keep quiet, maybe you need to do just the opposite... embrace the church and speak your mind. It may actually be the mind of God. Did you ever think of that?

Before Cedarbrook Church started I taught a series of messages on the book of Nehemiah (these were meetings that we had before we officially opened). We learned that vision always starts with discontent. The visionary has something in mind that isn't yet in place. It's out of that sense of frustration that they are moved to take action. They move to bring what's in their mind into reality (often in the face of opposition).

Unfortunately, many visionaries assume that they are mere malcontents. They feel that they are better off to stay out of the church in order to not "infect" anyone with their strange thinking. But I believe some of the church's best people are currently on the outside looking in. If the church is going to become who God meant it to be, we HAVE to bring these visionaries inside of the church, make room for them and affirm them.

Let me be the first to affirm you in your contrarian thinking and invite you to bring it into the church. If you get kicked out of a few in the process, that's okay. Keep trying. You can always move to Menomonie and join Cedarbrook! Some of our best leaders have been reeled in from the fringes.

Over the next few days I will be looking at what it is about church that keeps so many good people away and the lessons we can learn. I hope you'll join me, invite a fellow discontent and even add your two cents worth to the discussion. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Book: an Unstoppable Force

I'm currently reading (among a few others) an Unstoppable Force by Erwin McManus. McManus mentions that when he was a young pastor he was a part of a church that was on the verge of extinction. They had $20,000 left in their account and they were protecting it like it was the cure for cancer. Erwin suggested that they invest that money in reaching out to the community. But his other leaders quickly objected saying, "But we must survive!"

McManus said that they should either reach their city with that money or die trying. His comment on that experience was "Once survival has become our supreme goal, we have lost our way."

I was at a church conference last Friday and they asked the question, "What are you willing to go out of business for?" In other words, what's so important to you as a church (or business) that you are willing to risk it all, and if you fail, you aren't ashamed because you know you died trying.

I'm afraid too many churches are like McManus' church. They aren't willing to go out of business. They just want to survive. They think that merely existing is somehow virtuous. But it's in risking it all that the church has found it's true self and ultimately grown. McManus notes the martyrs of the faith. They didn't survive. They went out in flames...literally. But, as has been said...The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.

I'm challenged by these thoughts because Cedarbrook has taken risks from day one. I want to keep it that way. Now that we have some money in the bank I don't want "survival" to become our goal. Our goal has to continually be to reach more people, more effectively with the good news that God is pursuing us in Jesus.

If you want to check out this book, click here.