If a corporate institution is suffering from low revenue or consumer participation, they can easily run an ad campaign to raise awareness. Churches, while far from corporate entities are using the option to do that. For example, the United Methodist Church, whose average member is in their 60s, launched “Rethink Church” nearly 2 years ago. It is a $20 million, 4-year multi-media effort to highlight the ways younger people – who as a generation are very service minded – can participate through the UMC.
Methodists are not alone in recognizing this shift. While church attendance was high in the United States post-9/11, nearly 10 years later, it takes bad economic times to bring, at least Evangelicals, back to church. Protestants are not alone in this, especially given the troubles the Roman Catholic Church has experienced in the last 5 years.
The effects of re-packaging the message of Christ are still yet to be seen, however, the reasons people go, or don’t go to worship Christ are remarkably similar to why people did or did not go in His life. The majority of those reasons can be summed up in one underlying perspective.
People are afraid of church.
Going, or not going on the surface may seem like a reason-based choice, but it is much more of a “gut-call.” In my late 20s, I started going back to the church I was raised in because I was afraid that people would figure out I had no idea what it meant to follow Christ. My emotional state led me to decide that I would face my fear and try church as an adult.
From listening to my family and friends, their relationship with church, at least in part, is also based on the emotion of fear. I see it manifested in three different ways.
First, fear pulls you to Church. A devastating situation such as an illness, disobedient child or financial situation can lead to getting in a pew on a regular basis; as mentioned, church attendance sky-rocketed following 9/11 because people wanted comfort – and answers. It was an earth-shattering event and God was the only Person big enough to provide. However, if the search for God ends at noon on Sunday, there is no relationship, no stickiness. There must be depth there; or you go back to what you did on Sunday before, with church a blip on the screen.
Secondly, fear pulls you away from church. You could chalk it up to a strong self-confidence, but from the people I know who are adamant against church, somewhere in the past, have a scar. It is hard to want to go back the very people who speak about loving their neighbor do the opposite. When church hurts you, the best idea is to stay away. Those folks need to see real evidence, lived out in the lives of the Christians they know, over a long period of time, to even think about walking through the door again.
Finally, fear pulls you to God. This seems to be a secondary effect of the first two types. This is the first step on the road to salvation because you have gotten past what church looks, sounds, feels like – and hunger for more. Jesus knew it would be a hard road to find Him – He said as much in Luke 8:1-15, as we see only one seed gets planted just right.
The first two fears of church might, in some way, get you in the door, but the next step is getting hooked on wanting to know who Jesus really is. And fear of The Lord is never a bad thing – indeed Proverbs 9:10 and Psalm 111:10 both declare it to be the start of wisdom.
It is estimated that over 366 times the Bible says “do not fear,” once for each day of the year, plus one. Fear maybe the start of your journey, but Jesus declares it ends with Him. That is a powerful testament to what our Lord wants to deliver us from. It is never too late to put away your fear and start a deeper walk with Him.