Monday, November 13, 2023

Church Culture

A few weeks ago, I made a post on my personal Facebook page connecting my personal story to a story that I have heard from so many others over the years. And it's a conversation that really deserves more space than a small post can give it. 

Thankfully, I have a blog. (Ha.)

The post was about how, about seven months ago, I essentially disappeared from my church. Due to a medical condition (which I hope is temporary), I have struggled to feel safe driving to my church building, even though it's only a few miles, so I have been spending my Sundays at home. Now, I am a person who has been very visible in my church for many years - serving in a dozen different capacities, including several "on-stage" roles. So it was interesting to me that even after several months of not being in physical attendance, I could count on one hand the number of church members who had reached out to me at all. 

And the point of that post was not "my church sucks" (and my sincere apologies to any who might have taken it that way. From feedback that I have received, overwhelmingly most understood what I was trying to say). The point of that post was - if it can happen to someone as visible as me, how much more easily does it happen to someone less visible? 

The truth is, this is a story I have heard a lot over the past decade or so in ministry. I have heard it from patients in the hospital (pre-Covid, when hospitals were fully open) who have wondered why more of their church family isn't visiting them. I have heard it from hospice patients who spent their entire lives in a church only to have just a handful of visitors or even phone calls in their final months. I have heard it from seekers who have thought they found the perfect church for them, only to be hurt by realizing that no one really knows if they are there are not. No one seems to notice them at all. 

I have had several reach out to me after that post saying, essentially, this is why they don't go to church any more. 

It's heartbreaking. 

And the reason that I cited in my post for this happening - and it's a big reason - is the church hopping/church shopping culture that we live in. Persons and families move churches so often now that we just assume folks will come and go in our congregations. So many have already come and left us that it doesn't surprise us when someone just...disappears. We just assume they went somewhere else. That they moved on. That for whatever reason, they decided not to be a member of our church any more. And so, avoiding all of the awkward conversations that come with, "Hey, uhm..." we just mourn the loss of our friend and move on with the folks who are still with us. Such is the church culture in America. 

The more I have thought about this, though, the more I have realized that while church hopping is a big reason why it's easy to disappear from the church, it's not the only reason. There are other things happening in church culture that make it easy for someone to just drop entirely off the radar and have no one at all pick them up. 

And it's hurting the church. 

Not only is it hurting the church, but it's hurting the faithful. It's hurting all of us. It's hurting God's mission and glory in the world.

I fear that if we don't start taking a hard look at this, we're going to see a further decline of the church in America. I fear that we're about to lose the entirety of the essence of who we are supposed to be. 

So let's talk about church culture and how it is that so many in this generation are feeling a separation between themselves and their church, how many are wrestling with what they feel like is abandonment. 

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