Leaving Church #1: Irrelevant church experience

[ I previously announced my intention to begin a blog series about why people are leaving church.  This post is the first in this series. How can we fix these problems when they arise? ]

  1. Irrelevant church experience:

This question is related to the first. People have questions that need answering.  They want their lives to make sense.  They might ask: “What does this matter have to do with my life?  Does what is being said and taught here in church have anything to do with the life I lead, the family I’m a part of, or the work I do?”  Someone brought this up to me in one of my board/council meetings as advice on what my messages/sermons should achieve.  How do we find out more of these pertinent and relevant questions that people have?

If our churches are not involved with what really matters to people, should we expect them to take notice or care about attending church?  If we do not value the questions of members, we will not  see a need to foster an environment of openness to their questions. The question is then: How do we do this? How do we create mechanisms to allow for doubt and dialogue? Generations of disenfranchised members who have had their questions ignored will continue to leave to find their answers elsewhere.

Yes, church worship services can become boring and irrelevant because the teaching and discussions relate only to the initial stages of faith, confirmation of baptism, or initial stage of making a personal commitment to follow Christ.  Perhaps bible studies help satisfy questions of many people by giving them propositional truths from the bible.  However, the question is: will it satisfy most people with questions?  I think many people out there, it’s still fuzzy.  They cannot see the spiritual meaning behind our propositional truths and how they are translated into everyday life.  Therefore, church becomes irrelevant and boring, and they leave.  So how can the church make church more relevant?

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libertyculture

Reflections on when faith & the scriptures intersect life & society.

20 thoughts on “Leaving Church #1: Irrelevant church experience”

  1. Well, I guess you can always avoid my suggestions for movies, music, and games. We’ll see where things with church go in the next year, and I’m choosing optimism.

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  2. Nathan that sounds like it could be me talking.

    I’m a little more of a prude when it comes to games and movies though compared with many biblliobloggers.

    I’m so thankful for the blogging friends I have. The internet is a double edged sword (not in a good way) but my own blogging experience and the commenters have been great. Really fills a void.

    I can’t imagine studying the Pentateuch as a kid. That’s fantastic.

    Back to the subject, I really don’t know what church should look or be like. I had a phase where I hated ‘the corporate church’ as in corporation and liked home church but have changed my mind on that, especially after becoming Reformed.
    Jeff

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  3. I have been pretty overwhelmed for the past two years by the general lack of interest towards Bible study. Most people seem to revere the Bible but not be interested in studying it, or listening to me talk about things I’ve discovered from studying it. Other than my father and wife, the only two people I’ve found so far that share my interest are both pastors in my church. Actually, my wife is discipling two teenage girls this year and they are almost done studying the Pentateuch. So that makes six in my immediate circle, in two years.

    This is also the main appeal of biblioblogs for me. I have found that there are people that have a genuine interest in scripture and trying to live by it. Locally this has not been the case, and it’s a source of frustration/depression. My wife and I have made a more concerted effort in the past month to discuss scripture together more, but she tends to focus on application and not care so much for Greek and Hebrew, etc. Anyways, it is definitely a rare person who has a genuine love of reading and talking about the Bible!

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  4. I think that if we change our focus so that from childhood we are training people up to be leaders in the church, instead of good individuals, then we will see the changes that are needed.

    Nathan, I think you’re onto something here. You’re absolutely right. Young people in the church need to be mission-minded and that’s only achieved through discipleship and teaching, especially starting at an early age.

    In my late twenties when I was asked to be a co-chair of a university-aged fellowship and this really impressed upon me the importance of Christian leadership. I want to open our young teens to this kind of thinking right now but not sure if they understand this yet. It’s hard enough to get this idea across to the parents. I think we just have to keep plugging away at this in our sermons and small groups time.

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  5. I think it’s hard to find good Bible study and/or good sermons on the Bible text. Most lessons and sermons tend to be topical in nature.

    Back to the small groups topic… I think that if we change our focus so that from childhood we are training people up to be leaders in the church, instead of good individuals, then we will see the changes that are needed. There does not seem to be intentional training up of lay leaders, and instead the paid clergy are expected to stretch and fill all leadership positions.

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  6. I didn’t mean to imply I hope the sermon goes away but just that if there is change, into I don’t know what, it wouldn’t happen within 30 years. As far as a 12 min. sermon that’s def. not the change that’s needed.

    A small group to me

    Jeff

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  7. every small group needs a strong leader with the skills and abilities normally associated with an associate pastor or a great bible study teacher

    Nathan, you’re asking for a lot aren’t you? If that was possible, we’d have 100 times the number of pastors out there. 😉 I agree that in many cases, small group and bible study leaders don’t prepare well enough. I know it’s a struggle from my own experience of leading one. If I can just find enough time…

    Jeff, sermons won’t go away. I think traditional sermons will be around for a long time. In some churches, sermons are full of fluff and don’t have any substance. Some sermons just seem irrelevant. Moreover, I personally have a problem with 12-minute sermons. And yes, in some churches, they really do have 12-minute sermons. When that happens, how can we expect people to grow in spirituality and content (understanding)?

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  8. I think the current model will last for much more than 20-30 years because it’s been going on for hundreds if not well over 1000. People don’t change easily but the younger generation might.
    Jeff

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  9. I think the problems with small groups is that every small group needs a strong leader with the skills and abilities normally associated with an associate pastor or a great bible study teacher. I think small groups fail when the leadership is not prepared or learned enough. The concept is sound IMO, though.

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  10. Kevin –

    Scott, I’m curious to hearing what ways you see small groups as ineffective in discipleship?

    I wasn’t saying small groups are ineffective. But maybe how small groups work themselves out in the details. What helps us go deeper and be transformed? I read these words not too long ago from a book by Larry Crabb called Becoming a True Spiritual Community:

    A pastor who ministers to small groups in a sizable church recently told me, “People in our home fellowships do what the manuals instruct them to do. They tell personal stories, share prayer requests, discuss interesting things, reflect on biblical texts, worship together, sometimes even weep for one another. But something’s not going on that should be, something everyone wants. I don’t know what it is, but it’s missing.”

    I sometimes feel that as well. Not that every small group has to have a sense as if it were Pentecost with the 120 all over again. But wanting the assurance and confirmation that we are progressively moving forward into maturity.

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  11. we truly need to rethink our corporate, and even small group, gatherings. I’m not sure our approach is ultimately helpful in seeing a mature people come about

    Scott, I’m curious to hearing what ways you see small groups as ineffective in discipleship?

    You also raise a very good point about our churches being product-consumer driven. People don’t get to participate in the worship when they’re only the audience. Something I’ve been trying out recently is taking a few minutes for people to share what God has done in their lives (i.e., a testimony time before the worship service begins). But the feedback I’ve received from some people is that don’t feel this flows very well with the whole service. Occasionally, I still allow for testimonies, but I’m not sure what’s the best way to go about this right now.

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  12. Yes, we truly need to rethink our corporate, and even small group, gatherings. I’m not sure our approach is ultimately helpful in seeing a mature people come about.

    In America, we formulate our gatherings from a product-consumer perspective. We have a product, come and consume. Or we do it from the performance-audience perspective. We perform, and you, the audience, watch and listen.

    This is how church gatherings usually take place. I am starting to ask, and many others have asked way before me, if this set up is what will endure and bring the body to maturity in some 20-30 years time. I know that the typical Sunday morning gathering can maintain the product-consumer or performance-audience perspectives for now. But should we start building in accordance with what will be prevalent in 20 years, or stay building in accordance with how things look today? Or is there a middle-ground approach to make an easier transition to what will be important down the road?

    So, in all, I don’t think it is only about making sure our messages ‘apply to life’, though, yes, that is important. I think it might be more about rethinking our larger perspective of church and if that should be rearranged, which would make us ask about our corporate and small group gatherings.

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  13. If my wife would let me, I would only go to church on Wed and Sun nights. Still locked into the Sunday morning drag for now. 😉

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  14. The traditional service/sermon format does not meet this need. A Bible study or some type of group meeting would be ideal…

    Nathan, the traditional service/sermon indeed doesn’t work for people who have questions. I once had a Buddhist friend who gave me a word of advice as I was finishing seminary. He told me I should allow people to ask questions rather than have sermon time. He told me that was the way of the future–at least that’s what he envisioned. Wise words from a person who was not bogged down with “Church-ianity”.

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  15. The question is then: How do we do this? How do we create mechanisms to allow for doubt and dialogue?

    There has to be something in place where people have the opportunity to interact with teaching and ask questions. The traditional service/sermon format does not meet this need. A Bible study or some type of group meeting would be ideal, however there are diminishing returns as the group size increases. My Sunday School class of 20-40 people is too large to have significant discussion and to answer most questions.

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