Most of our city – Oklahoma City – does not attend church. The numbers we hear say it’s 80-85% don’t go. Many of those claim to be Christians, and no doubt some are. Some used to go, but they don’t wish to any more. That’s true across the nation, even tough 90% say they believe in God.
Why is that? Why is that absentee number so high?
You should ask people and find out for yourself. It’s an interesting question that will get anyone talking. I’ll guess that you’ll hear some story and reflection and even perhaps anger about church hurt. You’ll hear about irrelevance. Condemnation. Judgment.
In Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, authors Thom and Joani Schultz say there are four reasons: 1. “I feel judged.” 2. “I don’t want to be lectured.” 3. “Church people are a bunch of hypocrites.” and 4. “Your God is irrelevant to my life. But I’d like to know there is a God and he cares about me.”
Sleeping in sounds better to most people. They have Sundays to rest and play, and they don’t want to go somewhere to hear about how lousy they are and sing songs they don’t like, be around people who don’t like them and hear a sermon about hate.
Are they wrong? Would you want that?
Of course some of their reasons are incorrect some of the time. Some of us might attend a church that actually does talk about love. That message might be tough to get to, but it’s there. We know it is. So we keep at it and hope that something changes.
When we started City Pres, we wanted to at least try to reach that 80-85%. We weren’t going to compromise our integrity as a historic church. We are always going to teach the Bible and apply it to our lives. We’re going to talk about how Christ saves sinners and he’s the only way. We’re going to sing old and new songs, redone ones to new music. We’re going to gather in groups in homes and live out life together and invite people into those lives. We’re going to hold to our confession of faith and catechisms, the documents that form our church and its ideas. We’re going to present ourselves as into the tradition of the church by wearing robes and following the church calendar. We’re going to think of our neighborhood as a place like a parish and try to serve and minister to the people right around us.
And we’re going to enter into the culture to speak to it and let it speak to us. This is an aspect of Love the City. We need to love the city by entering into the city and participating in it. We want to serve it. We want to love it. We want to speak to it. We want to invite it. We want to celebrate it. We also want to cry with it and say its wrong when it is. We want the best Oklahoma City there can be. We want its peace, its shalom, its goodness, its flourishing.
That is really awesome. It can at least sound awesome. But then you have to start doing it, and you realize that the city is filled with people.
When Bobby and I give our New Membership class, we talk a long time about Love God, Love People and Love the City. We always make the point the loving people is incredibly difficult. People are messy. They’re sinners, and because of that they’re sinning.
We’re sinning too, but not like that. And that’s at least one big reason why the outsiders don’t want to come in. They not only can feel that sentiment; we often just outright say it. We don’t want that sin around us. We cannot condone that behavior. We cannot allow that word. We cannot allow that song. We cannot allow that drinking, that dancing, that smoking, that dress… that way.
We decided we were going to try to not be that way. That we were going to try to be kind to outsiders, even while they’re still outsiders. That we’d try to put a few things on the line – not our doctrine or our beliefs or our faith or our God. We’d try to open our homes. Our budgets. Our building. We’d try to remember that there are people with us who might like to be in the church. And that some might find their way there. Or to the retreat. Or on the trip. Or in our CityGroup. Or at the conference.
There are some that don’t look broken, but they in fact are. There are others that are broken and they also look as broken as they are. Some are testing us to see if we will shudder when they sin. Some can’t keep it in like we have practiced. Some I’m sure have bad motives and they want to further hurt the church. But some might come because they’re actually wondering if lo the storms are breaking. Her marriage might be crumbling and she needs a back row to sit and pray and sing and cry. She needs a friend but it will take time to be one. His kids hate him so he needs to hear that he is loved in Christ. Her breath smells of the bender she went on the night before, and she’s ashamed of what she did and she said. She needs the wine, the blood of Christ if she’ll believe and take it. He stayed up late and in his loneliness he abused himself. He needs friends to call next time. He needs good friends. He needs the Holy Spirit to make him whole. So he’s wondering and looking because he knows this might be a place he could find it.
As we invite people in, we invite a lot of craziness in. We can’t control it all. We’re not accommodating the culture by giving people a place and space to find God. It’s not like we have no rules or no standards or no thoughts or nothing to say. It’s not all out the window. It’s not a free for all.
It’s not changing our beliefs – is it? It’s not.
Another approach is to try to control it all. The easiest way to do that is to forbid it. To come up with either one rule that says no one can sin around us. If we have that way then we’ll make sure to tell it explicitly or implicitly all the time and everyone will hear it loud and clear. It’s just what they expect. The other way to do it is to generate a million rules and put it all in one big rule book so we can start to go through each infraction so people will know we’re serious and have thought about it and are watching and we will not tolerate rule breaking.
Or we can walk together in relationships. Like I said, that doesn’t mean there are NO rules. It does mean we’re going to rub up against things that bother us and we don’t like. We’re going to see people break rules and sin, and we’re going to see that in our own hearts and lives. We’re going to have to talk about those very things, and that’s tough to do. It’s tough to sort out. It’s tough to admit. It’s tough to deal with. It’s easier to forbid and to judge. It’s hard to forgive and to love.
We’re trying to hold the greatest truths anyone could ever have with a soft and gentle hand. It’s trying to love people firmly and truthfully and lovingly, even while their mess is getting onto you – and yours onto them. It’s allowing some sort of process to transpire. It’s being humble with our own sin and our own stickiness and our own self-righteous respectable sins that drives people away from the Way, the Truth and the Life.
We think that there are many who have not been in the church who might like to be in if we could be a people like that. And if you don’t think so, then you will continue to be mad at the 80-85% and mad at those trying to reach them. But we’ll keep on trying. We’ll keep on trying, and it will tough but it’s worth it. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll try to make them in love and we hope you’ll join us in reaching out to a city who doesn’t like the church.