Monday night in my world religions class the professor asked how many of us do not attend church on a consistent basis. Half of the class raised their hands. The students in this class are from diverse denominational backgrounds and vary in their choice of study at the seminary. All are investing a significant amount of time, energy, and financial resources to faithfully follow Jesus. To have half of them not be consistently affiliated with a particular community of faith says something.
The reasons people have walked away are countless. Some have been wounded. Some are no longer able to settle for a watered-down Gospel that fails to address current cultural challenges. Some are tired of existing off little bread crumbs from a table that is “open to all” in word, but not actually open to all indeed. Some have shifted significantly in their theological perspectives that remaining in their previous place of worship was no longer an option. These are but a few options, and may or may not be any of the reasons my classmates no longer belong to a specific community of faith.
What I do know is my classmates do not fall in the apathetic or failure to commit categories, nor do they land in the church hopper or shopper categories that pastors and church leaderships claim those that leave their communities they belong to. Their leaving isn’t an anomaly. They are not outliers. These individuals are passionate about Christ, the Word, and seeing Christ’s reconciliation come to fruition in this word.
In class, we discussed how many Christians don’t want to associate with people of other faiths for fear of syncretism. But the real deal is the American Church is more than comfortable with syncretism, in that it consistently embodies cultural practices associated with capitalism, individualism, and a host of other -isms. Many build their foundation on a consumerist mindset by developing specific versions of Jesus that cater to a particular demographic in the marketplace. None would openly admit this though, as they will claim to be a “Bible-believing church that preaches Jesus.” And maybe that’s true. But it’s clear the American Christian Machine that has been developed is failing in significant ways to bring forth the reconciliation of Christ that they profess to believe.
The winds of change are blowing. People want more of God and the abundant life Christ came to give. They are desperately searching for a Savior, not a show; for redemption, not relevance; for something eternal, not entertaining; and for solid foundations, rather than something “fun.” I think we underestimate the depth of human needs when we water down our theology and fail to give people space to ask the hard questions, when we allow only dominant voices to speak on behalf of all people, and when we continually place God into the black and white box of Christian conformity that fails to take into account centuries of church history and tradition.
I’m not sure what’s next for the American Church, but I know it cannot keep doing what it has been doing for generations. It is time for the sleeping giant to awaken and step into the Light. I pray that happens in my lifetime.