FROM THE WELL - May 21st, 2014

Why Church Doesn’t Fit Most People

MARCH 7, 2012 BY THOM SCHULTZ

Most people don’t go to church anymore. And the minority who do regularly attend and appreciate weekly services fit a certain profile. They’re the church-inclined.

This shrinking minority differs from the majority in several ways:

  • Audience-Oriented. They appreciate a good presentation from the stage. They prefer to passively listen while the paid professionals on the stage do the work. Similar to theater-goers, they may judge the “performance” based on how well they are entertained or engaged.
  • Anonymous. They often seek anonymity. They like being part of a faceless crowd. They don’t necessarily want to be noticed—or known. They appreciate churches that keep the spotlight on the performers on stage, that allow the audience to sit quietly in the dark, so to speak.
  • Authority-Centered. They rely heavily on authority figures for information and inspiration. So, in the contemporary church, they count on the paid professionals to communicate the insights, move them, pray on their behalf, and do the real ministry.
  • Academic. They see the church’s role as primarily academic. They come once a week to obtain information about the Bible or God or life. They expect to hear an authority teach theological principles and historical data.
  • Auditory. They’re often auditory learners—people who take in and remember primarily through their ears. The contemporary church service suits them because it’s predominately an auditory experience.

For the shrinking minority, this type of church experience satisfies them. They’re content with the status quo.

But what about the growing majority of people who don’t regularly attend church services? Why don’t these same factors work for them? It seems that what attracts the church-inclined may actually repel or at least disinterest the majority. Let’s look at each factor again from their perspective.

Audience-Oriented. Though most people enjoy a good show, they don’t view their spirituality as a spectator activity. Even though they may long for God, they say they don’t see the need to sit in an auditorium and watch professional religious people perform rehearsed presentations.

Anonymous. Though most people seek occasional anonymity, when it comes to matters of the heart, they actually crave relationship. They want to be known. They want to contribute to the conversation. Telling their story is as important as listening to someone else’s.

Authority-Centered. Most people today have moved into the new era of information distribution, which is accentuated by the internet. Increasingly, people no longer have to wait for authorities to deliver needed information. They’re comfortable accessing and processing it themselves.

Academic. We live in an information-soaked world. When it comes to spiritual things, most people don’t sense they’re lacking hard data. They’re lacking the soft stuff of the soul. Their desired relationship with God seems more at home at Starbucks than in a lecture hall. Like any relationship, they sense growth in a relationship with God comes more from give-and-take than passive consumption of someone’s lecture.

Auditory. Research shows that 30 percent or less of the population is made up of auditory learners. Most of the population processes information and thoughts primarily in other ways. They tend to tune out when asked to endure a presentation that implies they should sit still and listen.

Don’t misunderstand. These people aren’t disinterested in God or spiritual things. They simply don’t find the church’s format a good fit for them. The typical Sunday morning service of half lecture and half sing-along simply isn’t a useful way for them to connect to God.

And it doesn’t matter how carefully the preacher prepares or delivers the sermon, or how polished the musicians perform. That formula just doesn’t work for most people anymore.

If today’s church wishes to reach beyond the shrinking church-inclined attendees, it will need to consider new and different ways to engage people.

I’m not suggesting the church erase what it’s doing for the current audience. Keep serving the church-inclined. I’m simply suggesting it’s time to add some additional new and different experiences. At different times. In different environments. To grow the church. To be the church.