Why People Stop Coming To Church

Recently I came across this study by Thom Rainer on why Church members are participating in the gathering of the church less than they previously have.

Here are his findings:

THEY ARE MORE MOBILE. As people are more mobile, they have more places to be and demands to meet.

THEY ARE MORE AFFLUENT. As people have more wealth, they can provide more options for themselves.

THEY HAVE MORE OPTIONS. See above.

THEY CONSIDER CHURCH OPTIONAL. As other options increase, church participation becomes just another option. Besides the church can “outdo” what others offer.

THEY ARE NOT ACTIVE IN A SMALL GROUP. People who attend a small group are more likely to be engaged in the larger life of the church. Those who don’t, aren’t.

THEY HAVE NOT BEEN CHALLENGED. The church has dropped the bar instead of raising the level of expectations. People will inevitably fall to your lower level of expectation.

As I have taken time to think over this list there appeared to me to be a common thread (or three):

  • Either Christians have come to accept that Jesus does not value devotion and commitment to his Bride;
  • Or these members are choosing to reject Christ’s Bride (which can’t be taken will by the groom) by not valuing her as he does;
  • Or these members never made a real commitment to follow and serve Christ in the first place.

I reached that conclusion for this reason. Every reason for people attending church less regularly has to do with a decision to be a disciple with a lower level of commitment, a level at which being a part of the bride of Christ gets squeezed out  by other interests and engagements. What level does your commitment to Christ’s Bride settle? You can’t be more committed to Him than you are His Bride.

The church isn’t perfect, but it is the Bride of Christ.

 



Hospitality That Goes Deep

At FCC, we have a period of time between Worship Celebration and Connection Groups that we call “hospitality”. Hospitality entails serving punch and coffee, along with a selection of desserts or light snacks to our hungry post-worship crowd. Sometimes we are served what would even be called a light meal.

This environment is useful and needed, as well as valued and appreciated. It starts us on the road to hospitality as it provides us with a good time to interact with one another with the “Hi, how you doing ?” or “I’m glad to have the chance to meet you!” conversations before we move on to our connection environments.

Hospitality is a key virtue throughout the New Testament. We see it acted out repeatedly by Jesus in the gospels as he sat down for meals with saints and sinners. We see that repeated by the church in Acts. Hospitality is prominent in the imperatives of Romans 12.

Yet, I am forced to wonder if labeling this “hospitality” doesn’t also present a certain danger. Could it tempt us to accept a limited cultural definition of hospitality rather than embracing the richer and deeper New Testament expression?

However, the term hospitality in the New Testament represents much more than a time of refreshments.  A perception that limits hospitality to punch and coffee misses the richness of God’s intent.

Hospitality is opening one’s life and one’s home to others. It is inviting others to put their feet under your table, and engaging one another in deep, honest and vulnerable conversation. It is  about showing acceptance enjoyed around a meal where we can really get to know one another. That is what Jesus did for Zacchaeus when he invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home for dinner.

When I was young, I remember after church going to the home of another family, going out to eat with another family, or inviting a family to our home … and in each of those environments the church would be served as two families got to know one another.

What if we were to rediscover this deeper sense of hospitality by inviting others into our homes, by eating together with one another around our tables, and getting to know one another. Or maybe it isn’t even a meal or our homes, but it is a longer conversation over a cup of coffee at Starbucks. How might that enhance the ministry of the church?.

 



Togetherness

f Ephesians.

In the month of April we will begin a message series through the book of Ephesians.

This will be the third time we have had a teaching series through Ephesians in the 11 years I have served as the Senior Minister. After having preached through it at least two times prior to my ministry at First Christian Church of Chicago, you would think that I might havedeveloped a pretty good grasp of its content.

However, there was a simple, but very significant message that I had not noticed previously. Perhaps I had missed it because I too am very much a product of our culture of American individualism. As I looked at Scripture through those lenses, I often made a huge mistake in seeing the intended much and its proper audience.

Here is what I have discovered. The book of Ephesians is very much a letter to the church – not a church as a collection of INDIVIDUALS  — but the church as a COMMUNITY of individuals.

Here is the difference. A collection of individuals emphasize the personal message, as everything is read through the lenses of what it says, means, instructs, and encourages me. The emphasis on the individual becomes selfcentered and narcissistic.

However, as a community of individuals (emphasis on community), the emphasis moves from me to the community. I come to understand that being part of the church doesn’t mean I am a number in a larger set of numbers. Rather I am a functioning part of a body that needs my presence and participation to fully be what it was designed to be. Paul is not primarily concerned with the individual. His concern for the individual is only as part of the whole.

Here is the principle discovery I made: As I have read through Ephesians in preparation for the upcoming message series, I looked much closer at a word group that I have more or less skimmed over in the past. I did that because we all know what the word group in question means — or so I thought!

problem. Paul repeatedly uses “you” and “your”, not in a second

The word group in question is “you” and “your”. But here it is the not the second person singular sense, but a second person plural. If you were from the south, you might say “yall,” meaning everybody with you. Or you might even use the phrase “all yall all” meaning everybody in the group.

It is these usages that Paul employs in Ephesians. He wants us to see ourselves not as individuals, but a part of a larger body. He wants us to see ourselves in how we relate in community. He wants us to see ourselves in connection. He wants us to see ourselves as contributors toward the whole. He wants us to see ourselves as family, as common structure, as one.

How would your engagement with the church differ if you traded “you singular” for “you plural”? What would change if church was less about you and more about how you relate to others in the body?



Church Is Not Worship

When church becomes more about having a Sunday morning worship experience, believers cease to be the church, and their spiritual lives are ultimately harmed.

I am not sure how many of you reading this will agree with that statement. But it has repeatedly proven to be true.

Here is how it unfolds: As individual believers become primarily concerned that the Sunday worship environment “feed their spirit”, the goal of worship becomes a subjective experience. Did the worship music move me? Did the sermon feed me? Did I “feel” the presence of God’s spirit in worship? 

Do you see it? The Sunday morning worship experience becomes a selfabsorbed, selfserving model. I have to ask, “If we didn’t feel God’s presence does that mean he wasn’t there or that I wasn’t in tune?” And when I am no longer “feeling it”, it becomes easy for me to come less often, drop out all together, or go somewhere else in search of the allusive “feeling”.

But what makes the church the church is not its worship! We can experience music and message without going anywhere.

What makes the church the church is its fellowship!

A church is defined by its “one another” relationships within community … so it isn’t about me as much as it is about us. The church is not so much the place where I get filled up as it is the place where God uses me to help fill others. As we love, serve, grace, accept, forgive, encourage, correct, bear with, honor, and teach one another we are the church. That is why I often say that the most important time for our church is not necessarily the worship time, but the group life time where relationships are born and strengthened.

Yet we need to differentiate between being a “friendly church” and being the church. A “friendly church” is a church that is welcoming and glad to see one another on Sundays, and misses one another when people are absent. However, a “real church” develops relationships which reach beyond Sunday. A church invites and relishes opportunities to get together for prayer, for mutual service, or for just enjoying one another’s company. A “friendly church” is okay with Sunday interaction. A “real church” reaches out to engage with one another on other days of the week in order to build and strengthen deeper relationships.

We can only have these “real church” relationships when church people spend time with other church people. Are you ready to bring other believers into your life and family so we can be the church?



Church Isn’t A Worship Experience

When church becomes more about having a Sunday morning worship experience, believers cease to be the church, and their spiritual lives are ultimately harmed.

I am not sure how many of you reading this will agree with that statement. But it has repeatedly proven to be true.

Here is how it unfolds:

As individual believers become primarily concerned that the Sunday worship environment “feed their spirit”, the goal of worship becomes a subjective experience. Did the worship music move me? Did the sermon feed me? Did I “feel” the presence of God’s spirit in worship?

Do you see it? The Sunday morning worship experience becomes a self-absorbed, self-serving model.  I have to ask, “If we didn’t feel God’s presence does that mean he wasn’t there or that I wasn’t in tune?” And when I am no longer “feeling it”, it becomes easy for me to come less often, drop out all together, or go somewhere else in search of the allusive “feeling”.

But what makes the church the church is not its worship! We can experience music and message without going anywhere.

What makes the church the church is its fellowship!

A church is defined by its “one another” relationships within community … so it isn’t about me as much as it is about us. The church is not so much the place where I get filled up as it is the place where God uses me to help fill others.

As we love, serve, grace, accept, forgive, encourage, correct, bear with, honor, and teach one another we are the church. That is why I often say that the most important time for our church is not necessarily the worship time, but the group life time where relationships are born and strengthened.

Yet we need to differentiate between being a “friendly church” and being the church. A friendly church is a church that is welcoming and glad to see one another on Sundays, and misses one another when people are absent. However, a “real church” develops relationships which reach beyond Sunday. A church invites and relishes opportunities to get together for prayer, for mutual service, or for just enjoying one another’s company. A “friendly church” is okay with Sunday interaction. A “real church” reaches out to engage with one another on other days of the week in order to build and strengthen deeper relationships.

We can only have these “real church” relationships when church people spend time with other church people. Are you ready to bring other believers into your life and family so we can be the church?
 
— Pastor Steve

 



Letting Laity Preach

Letting the Laity TeachI have heard the question. It has risen to more than a whisper. “Why does Steve have so many Sunday’s when he doesn’t preach?”  Or we have the accompanying question, “Why are we having untrained church members preach? Don’t we want to show the best face possible when guests show up?”  (Have you seen my face? I’m not sure it is the best one we could show our guests!) Honestly, I hear your concerns.
 
Yet, there are real Biblical and practical reasons that the Elders have, from the beginning of my tenure as Senior Minister, supported sharing the preaching/teaching responsibilities with others in the congregation. Let me take a moment to explain those reasons.
 
As a principal ministry leader at FCC, my primary responsibility is not to do the work of ministry, but to equip God’s people for the work of ministry (Eph 4:13). Yes, I can equip as I do the preaching/teaching, however, I also do that as I equip others to use their gifts in that role. Believe me, it would be a lot easier for me to preach myself than to equip others. A lot of work goes into studying and teaching others text. Then I spend a significant amount of time coaching them on message preparation. I estimate it nearly doubles the amount of time it would take me to preach myself. But in training others, capacities are multiplied in a manner that wouldn’t be true if I did it all myself.
  
A second reason to allow others (including non-professionals) to teach the Sunday message is that it is good stewardship of the gifts that God has placed within our congregation.  If God has granted the church a number of people with teaching capabilities would it not rob them, as well as God, to not provide an outlet for them to develop and utilize those gifts. 
 
A third reason for having members teach relates to the guest question. Actually, when we have members teach guests show up in mass to hear the person teach.  The non-staff preachers bring with them an assortment of people who we would not see in worship with us on Sunday if it wasn’t for their family member or friend presenting the word on that Sunday. Having members preach is an act of evangelism that encourages the inviting of guests, guests who already have some connection with the church through the person teaching.
 
Finally, a final reason is that we are looking toward a time when it is quite possible that the Biblical church just may be pushed underground. If that is to ever happen, it is these trained non-professionals that will become the qualified teaching leadership for the underground church. We won’t have to rush to place ill-equipped leaders in positions of leadership in individual cells. We will have people who have been groomed to lead in the teaching ministry, and will be adequately equipped to share God’s word with depth and skill so that the church can be strong.
 
I hope this helps you understand why on 8-12 Sundays a year I “take a Sunday off” and let others lead in the ministry of teaching.
 
Let me close with this: Someone asked me if this means that just anyone can just get up on Sunday and teach. The answer to that is an absolute NO. The requirements for participation on the teaching team are extensive and demanding. Particularly, only those who prove their capacity to teach, and are willing to participate in extensive hours of training, equipping and preparation are added to the teaching team.

 

— Pastor Steve



Planning For Change

Undoubtedly you have heard the phrase, “Do what you’ve always done … you’ll always get the same results”, or the phrase’s idiot cousin, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

While over the last few years, we have not been adverse to change, we have also not been quick to change for the sake of change.

That hasn’t changed.

However, we will be changing some things up in order to seek some differing results as 2018 unfolds.

One change has already been implemented as we asked Ministry Team leaders to prepare budgets for each of their ministry teams. Never before have Ministry Team leaders been given the responsibility of financially planning for their own ministry.

That has caused a bump in our budget for 2018. All of the increase in the 2018 budget is attributable to the funding of the Ministry Teams. It is a bold step of faith.

We are also looking toward the implementation of some new ministries in the coming year. One of those is exploring the idea of a “coffeehouse worship” environment on Saturday evenings.

We have a growing number of FCC Chicago members who are unable to attend Sunday worship services regularly. We want to give them an opportunity to participate in worship.

However, we also want to offer a different kind of worship option that will increase the opportunity for us to reach a group that we are currently not reaching as effectively as we might. The younger generations have shown a higher receptivity to a coffeehouse environment for worship than a traditional service.

Planning is still in process, but we are looking at a soft launch for the Saturday coffeehouse worship sometime in the month of March. Be praying as we make preparations for this service.

 



Shallow Soil, Shallow Faith #5: Remove the Rocks

The rocky soil of the Parable of the Soils is a metaphor for those who lose faith because their faith has inadequate roots to sustain them during times of temptation, difficult circumstances, and persecution.
 
Yet, I have to wonder if there is something that we can do to help make this shallow ground more productive for the kingdom.

 

Is there anything we can do to improve the soil condition?

What are some potential remedies for shallow faith this is decimated, defeated and ultimately deserted?

If you’ve never had the opportunity to travel to Europe, you’ve seen them on TV and movies … those quaint country roads lined with miles of stone walls. These walls, which also divided fields, and lined drives would account for thousands upon thousands of stones. I thought to wonder, “where did all of these stones come from?”

Unlike us, these rocks weren’t hauled in for landscape purposes. These rock walls were formed as fields were cleared to make them more useful for farming. As rocks were pulled from the field they were stacked along the edges of the property where eventually the walls would take shape.

As sowers, we need to help remove the rocks so that the shallow can develop deeper roots that will be able to sustain their faith.

How shall we do that?

  • First, Teach for depth. We should teach, teach, teach … but we also need to be aware of what and how we are teaching.

Over the last two to three decades, the teaching practices of the church have changed. And it has not all been for the good. While some of the teaching prior to and into the 1980’s might have been good, solid theology but with little real life application, the preaching of the last couple of decades may be described in opposite terms … it is highly practical, but the depth of truth might be missing.

We have done a good job of preaching the imperative, the “how tos”:

  • Six Paths to Financial Peace;
  • Four Strategies to Defeat Emotional Insecurity;
  • Three Habits of Lasting Friendships;
  • Seven Steps to Have A Better Family by Friday;
  • Three Ways to Control Your Temper;
  • Two Keys To Racial Reconciliation.

In our effort to be practical, have we lost the reason, the why, for these imperatives … and in losing the reason for the imperative have we become just another social development organization.

When we water down the teaching of the church to steps, or life strategies, or imperatives to achieve, we encourage shallow faith.

We should never disconnect the imperative from the indicative. While the imperative tells us what to do, the indicative gives us the truth which should motivate us. We should never unhitch the command for action from the content of truth.

Both need to be taught in relation to one another:

Why should I strive for financial peace? Because God has made me a steward of His resources.

Why should I seek emotional security? Because we are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, and God wants us to know our worth.

Why should I want a better home? Because the home is a model for the relationship with God and his people, and it is the first place where we are usually introduced to Christ.

Why should events like recently occurred at Charlottesville disturb us? Because God created all people in his image, and the walls of hostility between races was knocked down by Christ. It is shallow Biblical knowledge that allows someone to distort a book which teaches the unity of all ethnic groups as joint heirs in the promises of God into a theology of white supremacy.

We need to teach for depth. But here is the second thing that we can to do clear the ground.

  • We must develop relationships with the shallow before the trials come.

Those relationships will help the shallow grow deeper roots in two ways:

Developing relationships of mutual accountability will help them confront the testing of temptation. As we walk with one another, calling out the sin, calling each other to repentance, it invites a return to faith, and a deeper walk. For each other’s own good, we can’t be too afraid to confront one another in our sins, but that requires relationship. Will having a relationship mean that confrontation won’t hurt the relationship? No, but shall we choose the opposite, letting our friend wander into sin because we don’t want to wound our friendship?

We help to remove the rocks by identifying the stones of sin that need to be cleared from the field, and in relationships of accountability help to move those sins and temptations to the edges.
 
— Pastor Steve


Shallow Soil, Shallow Faith #4: Persecution

In the orignal blog in this series, we discussed the spiritual condition of the rocky, shallow soil. In Jesus’ parable of the soils, this soil was a metaphor for those who had shallow, undeveloped faith, a group that may be at a spiritual epidemic in the American church today. Since their faith wasn’t developed, they ended up walking away from Christ and His church.
 
But why does this happen? What led them to abandon their relationship with God and the message of grace found in God’s word? In the second post in the series, we addressed the problem of shallowness that wasn’t able to fend off temptation, and surrendered to a life of sin.
 
In the third post, we considered the harsh reality of difficult periods of crisis and how they can shattered the shallow faith of the rocky soil.
 
Still, there is one particular area of testing which Jesus might have had in mind as he was explaining this story. “Time of trial” in Luke may be specifically denoting the threat of persecution, when in a literal way faith is being put on trial.

Jesus himself would confront that “time of trial” as he gave his life for the salvation of the world.

Many of his followers would confront the same threat. The possibilities of beatings, loss of a job, imprisonment, or even execution were real for the followers of Jesus.

In America, we have it easy. We cry persecution when public prayers are prohibited … when shop owners are fined for refusing to service “gay weddings” … when you may be called bigoted for taking a moral stand. I agree that all of these things are concerning, an indication of the drift of our country. But they are nothing like the persecution that others experience today around the world because of the stand that they take for their faith.

In America, has our faith become so soft, so shallow, that when confronted with cultural pressure, it is too easy to surrender Biblical principles so we won’t be called intolerant?  

Don’t get me wrong, the freedom of religion has been a tremendous blessing for Americans. But I have to wonder if that freedom hasn’t also had an unintended consequence of making our faith risk averse. We have become comfortable with our civil religion, one that fits nicely with the flow of our culture. We have no interest in being seen as “Jesus freaks”.

Yet, didn’t Jesus promise us that in this world we would have trouble? Didn’t he promise us that the world would hate us because it first hated him? Didn’t Peter say that we shouldn’t make ourselves at home in this world?

Some people choose to walk away from faith because they can’t live at peace with the world and with their faith … so they choose the world.
 
— Pastor Steve


Shallow Soil, Shallow Faith #3: Trials

In the orignal blog in this series, we discussed the spiritual condition of the rocky, shallow soil. In Jesus’ parable of the soils, this soil was a metaphor for those who had shallow, undeveloped faith, a group that may be at a spiritual epidemic in the American church today. Since their faith wasn’t developed, they ended up walking away from Christ and His church.
 
But why does this happen? What led them to abandon their relationship with God and the message of grace found in God’s word? In the second post in the series, we addressed the problem of shallowness that wasn’t able to fend off temptation, and surrendered to a life of sin.

Yet, there is another “time of testing” which we need to address. Testing is not just temptation. It is also met in trials, difficult circumstances … Those times that proverbially try men’s souls.

Why are trials called “time of testing”? Trials are tests because they are an opportunity for us to authenticate our trust in God.

It is one thing to trust God when you are experiencing peace, prosperity and health. It is another thing to trust him when life is crumbling around you.

Isn’t that the story of Job? Satan approached God to say that the only reason Job trusted God was because God had set him up in a cushy life. Then Satan challenged that if Job lost it all he would denounce God.

Then when Job lost everything, his response was “Still will I praise Him. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Yet, that is not so easy, is it? When the doctor enters the room with a cancer diagnosis … when you find yourself single because your spouse has left you for someone else … when the “yes” you were expecting is met with a “no” … when you find yourself widowed long before you expected … when your job position is cut … when a child dies … when your spouse’s anger escalates to physical harm … and on and on and on, it isn’t so easy to just sing out, “Blessed be the name of the Lord”, is it?

Questions arise. The “Whys” shout out at you. You may even become angry at God for placing you in such a painful situation. Like David, you may shout out at God, “Why did you do this to me?”

Paul, in 2 Corinthians, tells of a thorn in the flesh which he prayed God would remove. He prayed this prayer three times (it’s unclear whether this was three specific prayers, or three periods of time in which this prayer was prominent). However, the answer always came back the same, “No.”

How do you respond to God’s “no”, when it seems like He has either turned a deaf ear to your pain, or worse that He chooses not to do anything about it?

We’ve seen people in the throes of chaos turn their back on God, haven’t we? They raise the age old question, “If God is good, why does he allow such evil to continue to exist in the world?” And if the soil is shallow and rocky, it is not too big of a jump to conclude that either God doesn’t exist, or if He does exist, He is either not good, or is powerless to do anything about our problems.

Conversely, the rest of the answer Paul received from God was “My grace is sufficient for you.” The emphasis isn’t on the pain. It isn’t on the crisis. The emphasis is turned to a sufficient God.

If your roots are deep, these questions, these times of crisis and chaos, rather than causing you to push away from God will cause you to lean into him a little more. You may not have all of the answers you seek, but you choose to place a little more trust in the certainty of His love, His power, and His presence in an uncertain time.
 
What can we do to remove the stones from this plot of spiritual ground that in its shallowness is unable to deal with difficulty?

Walk along with people during those pivotal circumstances, those times of trial. The company during our walks through difficult circumstances is powerful. The absences of such company can be devastating.

I recently had someone share an instance where we didn’t do this so well. We responded well initially, as the events of crisis unfolded, but we didn’t do so well in the long run. As this person struggled with their faith in the midst of crisis, they became more and more isolated from the church. Instead of continuing to walk with them through the darkness, it became easier to deal with their proxy, and occasionally ask them, “How is she doing?”

Without the support of community, this person’s faith began to dry up and wither.

We can help remove the rocks by walking with each other through these difficult times, not just the moment of tragedy, but the long unfolding trial that follows.
 
— Pastor Steve