And We Go To Church Because?

In speaking with young people who have been active church attendees and true believers and disciples of Jesus I have been asking them one key question in the midst of year two of the pandemic. A time in which they have not been attending on the weekend because of Covid and local restrictions or simply out of an abundance of caution during this troubling time. 

The question: Are you planning to return to church when the pandemic is over? 

The answer in all cases – young unmarried men and young married couples – is no! 

The reason for not wanting to reconnect? Simple. When they stopped attending nothing changed in their daily life. The came to realize that church attendance and gathering with other believers to worship and hear someone teach God’s Word had not impacted their life in any tangible way. That the current format of ‘church’ was simply not working. So, if attending a Christian assembly on the weekend was not making a difference in their life and it was not even missed – even a little bit – then why start up attending again? Good question!

Their observation and their decision has much to say to the Church and I hope we don’t miss the message. The Church, in the eyes of many young people, is not longer relevant and has ceased to play a meaning role in their lives, if it ever did. It no longer serves a purpose. So, as a famous pastor once said, “If the horse is dead, dismount!” And that is exactly what they have done and are doing.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. They are not mad or disappointed with Jesus. They are still deeply interested in spiritual issues. They are continuing their spiritual journey searching for deeper meaning and purpose. They have simply eliminated the Church from the journey and are no longer seeing it as having a purpose in their lives. They won’t be returning – at least not to the Church as it now functions. 

From my vantage point this is a good thing IF, and it is a big if, the leaders of the Church will sit and speak with these young people and hear their heart. Leaders need to step outside their comfort zone and speak to those who have decided not to return and hear, really hear, what they have to say. Hear their heart without being defensive. Listen with their heart without making excuses and rationalizing. Then the leaders need to process this information and act upon what they are hearing. Changes need to be made. Big and small changes. Foundational changes. And to do so we need to remember that the message never changes – the Gospel of the Kingdom is always the same. But, the methods can change. The way we present the message needs to change. The way we celebrate the message needs to change. The way we gather to live the message needs to change. The way we understand the message and relate it to today’s soon-to-be (we hope) post pandemic world needs adjusting. 

I believe the changes need to be as radical and mind-bending as the ones Jesus Himself brought to the religious world of His day. His people had once had a dynamic, personal relationship with the living God. However, their faith had become bogged down in traditions and rituals and lost its life. It was now simply a set of rules to follow and rituals to perform. It had gone from dynamic to dead. From relational to religious. And Jesus came to turn this all upside down. The early Church continued this revolution (see Acts 17:6b). But over the decades and centuries that have followed the Church becomes fossilized and losing its life-force. Change is required. New seasons arrive and radical adjustments are made. We are in such a season. Let’s not miss the implications. 

In the midst of a slow death the Spirit moves upon the hearts of some people who face the truth and see the reality. And, they leave what is to build what should be. Oh, they are not always sure how to build but they know that what they have is not working and think that anything will be an improvement. They need the apostles to step in and encourage them in their search. They need the prophets to speak into the situation. They need to recognize that the foundation of the Church is the apostles and prophets with Jesus as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). And then, with these specific leaders they need to start to build once again. Not repair. Not rebuild. But starting with just the hunger they feel and the need they have for meaningful and life-giving fellowship they must step forward in faith and see where the Spirit leads them. 

Those who are still involved in the local church as we continue to walk through Covid and the pandemic should also take this opportunity to look at what they are doing and ask themselves why they do what they do. What are we gaining from what we do? Is what we call Church really biblical or is it designed by us for us? Those who continue to attend need to answer the question: “And we go to church because?”