Church Building

Why People Aren’t Coming Back To Church

During the medieval period, the church was the forerunner of science, art, and government. During the rapid expansion of the frontier, the church in America became the epicenter of education, politics, and even local news. In those days, the word ‘church’ summoned up images of steeples, stained glass, and country roads. When people thought of the church, they thought of hymnals, catechisms, and historic traditions. Now, anyone remotely familiar with history will tell you I am recounting history through rose-colored glasses. Though this is less than accurate, I do believe many in the church actually believe that our past is brighter than our future. For whatever reason, they assume that the church has been deeply respected, admired, and loved, until, (cue the ‘bum bum BAAAM’ music) NOW!

I kinda wonder if Barna is partially responsible for this overreaction. If you don’t know, Barna has been conducting research with pastors and churches for decades and has become the standard for church statistics. This is not to say that Barna has misrepresented the truth; rather, that statistics from Barna may not be as bleak as we may have been led to believe.

For example, there was this statistic that I began to hear about in the two thousands. The statistic went something like, ‘Did you know that 72% of our youth students who go off to secular universities will never come back to our churches?’ (cue gasp soundtrack). I am not here to quibble with the data; as far as I can tell, that’s pretty close to reality. What I want to push back against is how we chose to apply and interpret the data. We assumed, or maybe better yet, we were told by local evangelists that the university was secularizing students. I am sure there is some truth in that; however, recent studies show that the people most likely to attend church have a college education. So, how does that make sense?

Recently, the church statistic guys began to re-crunch the numbers only to find that our evangelist friend assumed that correlation equals causation, the number one fallacy in the field of statistics. You see, most of the youth that leave for university never come back to church, not because they have abandoned their faith, but due to significant life changes. Turns out, we lose most of our church attendance through significant life changes. A couple has their first kid, moves across the country for a job, or moves for education. It turns out, that these people with significant life changes still believe in Jesus but got out of the rhythm of going to church.

With the transient nature of ‘working online,’ the disruption of COVID, and the growing trend to flee the city for the country, Ada, Oklahoma, is full of believers who love Jesus but just don’t go to church. The Church in Ada has a new frontier, and it’s not ‘becoming respectable in the eyes of the world,’ as if that was ever a thing… Our responsibility is to go after the lost sheep. His people have forgotten what it is like to sit at his feet, receive from his word, and eat from his table. We have forgotten the joy of bringing him thanks and praise with the family of God. Beloved, Ada is, statistically speaking, full of people who have forgotten their first love. And many of us are just assuming that culture has polluted our hearts.

We gather together in our sanctuary saying, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ (Ecclesiastes 7:10; Ezra 3:12). Look, the grass is green where you water it. Invite someone to church; you might find out that they actually miss being with Jesus.

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