I must begin by saying that what I write is my own opinion. You may agree, you may not, but this is from my own observations and experiences.
I literally grew up in the church, was saved at an early age, and have always held strong to my faith regardless of my circumstances. Church has always been part of my life...actively, not out of obligation or duty, but because I wanted to. I've spent countless years in church, teaching Sunday schools, leading VBS, women's ministry, Bible studies, attending summer camp from the age of 8 until I turned 19, and I even attended Bible college where I earned a degree in Biblical studies. This is to say that God has always been very important to me.
So what is the problem?
The older I get, and the more involved I have become with church I realize why some don't regularly attend and why some have left the church. Most of what is concerning the church right now is the people leaving during their college and young adult days. Research has been done that suggests we've lost these people back in their elementary years. Many churches are very good at planning events and having great entertainment to draw people in, adding programs to fit every stage of life, etc., but what about people that have always been in church and just suddenly stop? I'm in my late 30's and I often wish I would just stay in bed on Sunday morning. How did I get to this point? I can tell you it didn't happen overnight or because of one event, person, or church.
When I was growing up in the deep South most people attended church. It was like an expected behavior. My children don't get that experience. Instead their friends (even from church) have sports, sleep-overs, parties, and other things going on instead. It seems more and more that when their is a conflict with church on Sunday morning, church loses. I'm not saying you're less of a Christian for not attending church, but what is the message we teach our children when we can't say no to outside opportunities but can always say no to church?
Have you ever counted the number of people in your church that lead and plan activities and compared them to the total number of regular attenders in your church? Unfortunately I've seen where it's the same few people that make up the majority of the work that is carried out in a church. If I had to guess, I would say this applies to the majority of churches rather than the minority. As a parent it is frustrating when no one wants to help with children's ministries. One doesn't have to be a parent to work with children. If we only rely on parents to run children's activities, then I may as well stay home and do children's activities at home. Parents need a break, too. There are many needs in a church from helping its people to painting its walls. It doesn't require that you be gifted in an area to serve. You do it to serve God. It's time to step away from self-centered thinking in our churches.
Does your congregation show respect for its leadership? Do you encourage those that work so hard to lead and care for such a diverse group of people? When you don't like something do you bring it to the leader or take it to Facebook? Do you pray for your leadership? On the other side leaders must be in touch with their church body, too and show genuine care and concern for the needs of the people. When leaders don't listen to the people under their care or don't show interest in them, they leave, or worse, they mistakenly correlate the leadership's failures to failure from God. Do your leaders know about the lives of the flock? Do they notice when people visit or when people stop showing up?
Is your church mentoring and training its leadership? I applaud the churches that follow biblical guidelines for appointing leaders and that purposely train their leaders. In most jobs continued training is required to stay fresh, up to date, and knowledgeable about the job. Our leaders need the same in addition to encouragement from the church.
This is the one I notice the most. I often notice that we have become so busy with our own lives that we have no time to invest in the lives of others. Usually I'm the person that tries to make people feel welcome. I greet the new people and over the years our family has hosted numerous people in our home for a meal or offered help to people when needed. I've spent years in a church where I served as much as I could and yet felt I couldn't depend on many people to notice if I was there or not. I think the most hurtful thing was to see a church that was my family, that I invested in for years, make no effort to contact me when I missed a month of church. You'll understand my offense when the church embarked upon a season of change which included contacting those that had left (as they told the congregation) yet no one called us, nor did anyone call some of the others I knew that left. I'm sure it was all with good intention, but apparently something came up that pushed this aside. Don't assume I harbor anger against this church. I actually have a lot of great memories and friends from there. My kids are also still involved in groups there. As we have found a new church we have found some of our needs met that weren't met previously, however people are busy everywhere. I don't know that anyone would notice our absence where we are now, and like most other places I've been, no one asks much about us or tries to get to know us. It's just a sad reality that probably causes the most harm to the church.
For years I've heard all the protests over music. Music has become a dividing and deciding point for many people when it comes to church. It sounds like nothing more than sibling rivalry over hymns vs. praise music. Obviously one is more godly than the other, right? Well, the arguments over the type of music, volume, hand raising, and instruments has replaced the argument of King James vs. NIV! I love both types of music, but I don't understand why we think God wants one more than the other. It is about Him, right? Somewhere we've lost that. In reality the arguing over music is part of a bigger problem in the church, the problem of unity. Is it so hard to get along? Is it so hard to find a compromise? Must we alienate people by their choice of song? Do you look at the heart of the song leader or the songs he chooses? When you don't like the music do you throw up a wall that prevents you from worshiping? If so, that's a problem of your own heart, and how you react becomes a problem in the church.
I know there are many other things that could be added to this list. I titled this a love/hate relationship because I love the church and what it is suppose to stand for. I hate that it can make me feel so unwanted and can turn people away from who God really is. There's always room for improvement. Let us be aware of the people sitting in the pews around us on Sunday morning and find ways to invest in them and not just for a couple of minutes on a Sunday morning. Otherwise people like me will give in to that desire to stay in bed on Sunday morning where it's much more comfortable.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.