10 Things That Ain’t Church (Some Thoughts On Irregular and Declining Church Attendance)

It’s never been easier to avoid church, skip church or exit church than it is today.

And it has a lot of church leaders and Christians scrambling to figure out what’s happening, why it’s happening and what it all means.

Those are great questions.

On the positive side, a lot of the social stigma associated with ‘missing a Sunday’ is gone…and that’s not a bad thing. Self-righteousness and judgment should never have felt at home in church anyway.

On the other side, though, what’s actually going on?

Is it a good thing for Christians to rarely/never/infrequently attend church?

If you watch online, does it count? If you do your own thing, is that a good replacement?

In the last few decades a whole new set of questions has arisen that we’re not sure we have the answer to. Church leaders are scrambling. People are coming up with their own answers. And I’m trying to figure it out too.

Complete bias here: I’ve spent over two decades as church leader. I’m hardly impartial. And we’ve been fortunate to see our church reach a lot of people in an era where most churches have plateaued or are declining. And at least half of the people we’ve reached didn’t used to attend church.

But all that said (this is hard to admit), I’ve felt the impulses to question the value of church attendance too (I wrote this post on that here).

And a few months ago, I missed weekend services three weeks in a row due to travel. Truthfully, at first, I was relieved to get a week or two off. I chose alternatives (church online, personal devotions etc), but by week three I was aching to be back.

I missed gathering together in Jesus’ name.

Sure, I fully understand that church is not something you go to, it’s something you are.

You don’t go to church, you are the church. But the “you” in you are the church is plural (we are the church), not singular. And church is bigger than you.

You don't go to church, you are the church. But the 'you' in you are the church is plural, not singular. Church is bigger than you. Click To Tweet

3 Things That Are True About Our Culture Right Now

There are at least three things that are true about our culture right now.

Spirituality Has Become An Individual Pursuit

First, spirituality is increasingly seen an individual pursuit, not a community activity.

Honestly, I get it. In a world that has gotten noiser, louder and angrier, there’s a part of me that wants to retreat into myself more every day.

Add to that the brokenness of true human community and unhealthy (or toxic) cultures, and it’s so much easier to say “I’m just going to figure this out on my own.” Which many people are trying to do.

I feel the pull too.

But I have to remind myself that for the most part, my desire to skip, pull away and do my own thing on my schedule isn’t solitude, it’s isolation. And while solitude is a gift from God, isolation is a tool of the enemy.

And there’s no faster way to render a community ineffective than to isolate its members.

While solitude is a gift from God, isolation is a tool of the enemy. There's no faster way to render a community ineffective than to isolate its members. Click To Tweet

Attendance May Be A New Spiritual Discipline

Second, because of how withdrawn and individualistic we’re all becoming, I wonder if—in an age in which people are devoted mostly to themselves—the mere act of attending church is becoming a spiritual discipline.

Devoting yourselves publicly to God and to a wider community is a countercultural act.

In an age in which people are devoted mostly to themselves, maybe attending church becoming a spiritual discipline. Click To Tweet

Decreased Attendance Often Equals Decreased Devotion

Finally, there’s a paradox developing that I don’t hear many people talking about publicly, and that’s spiritual growth.

In my observation, rarely does decreased church attendance produce increased devotion.

Sure, there are popular bloggers, authors and podcasters who might claim it does, but get out onto the streets and have a conversation with many people who used to go to church that don’t anymore, and you’ll meet a lot of people whose faith hasn’t grown.

If anything, it’s diminished.

Rarely does decreased church attendance produce increased devotion. Click To Tweet

10 Things That Ain’t Church

So where does this leave us?

In an age where everyone is looking for alternatives to gathering together, here are 10 things that—helpful as they may be in some respect—aren’t church.

If it gets a bit feisty in the points below, just know it’s because I’m challenging the gravitational pull I feel sometimes in me and I see all the time around me.

So here goes. Here are 10 things that still ain’t church.

1. Watching church online

Watching church online has exploded in the last decade.

We have an online campus at our church, which I love, because for many people it’s a step into church can be if it’s a step back in if you’re  out of town or on vacation, but for too many people people church online is a step out of church.

It’s a step toward lower devotion, not greater devotion. And to less mission, not deeper mission.

If we're really honest, for too many people church online is a step out of church, not into church. It's a step toward lesser devotion, not greater devotion. Click To Tweet

Here’s a little exercise I want to propose. If you’re watching online because it’s easier (or honestly, you’re just lazy), get yourself into a real human community.

Yes, a real church is going to be worse than your online experience. You will have to sit next to people you don’t like and who aren’t like you.

You could get hurt. You’ll have to do something. And you may have to give.

You’ll get into awkward conversations with people as you invite them to come with you. And you may damage the friendship as a result and feel all worried.

This is church. (Have you ever read 1 Corinthians? I mean really….)

Dating is easier than marriage. Especially first dating. But marriage is where the real reward is after you’ve disliked each other long enough to fall in love again and remember that in the midst of the mess God is writing a deeper, more powerful story than you could ever write on your own.

A C+ real life church experience is better than an A+ online church experience because real life is messy, and it’s going to force you grow.

So go find a real-life C+ church and get involved. And remember, you are not the solution to the C+ church’s problems. You’re part of the reason it’s a C+ church. So am I.

A C+ real life church experience is better than an A+ online church experience because real life is messy, and it's going to force you grow. Click To Tweet

2. Listening to a podcast

If you want to 1.5x speed God into your life while you’re on a run or driving to work, go ahead.

I love podcasting, but in the end, what it gives you is information and not much more.

Podcasting (and church online) should function like online dating. Everyone I know who met online and fell in love gets married. You rarely meet someone who says “We met online, have been married for five years but we’ve never actually met.” Of course you meet, that’s the point.

And I think that’s the point of church podcasts and church online…they lead to something greater: real human interaction around a mission bigger than you.

But 1.5xing a sermon podcast every week probably only gives you a .5 dose of God.

1.5xing a sermon podcast every week probably only gives you a .5 dose of God. Click To Tweet

3. Virtual Pastors

Because there are thousands of churches online and thousands more who put their content online via podcasts, many people have multiple preachers they listen to and think of as their ‘pastors’.

It’s great that you’re listening,  or that you follow 10 megachurch pastors or local pastors on Instagram, but that’s not church.

You may have a charcuterie board of favourite speakers and feel full, but true discipleship is not measured by how much you know, it’s measured by how much you love, and how much that love flows out of you and into the lives of others.

True discipleship is not measured by how much you know, it's measured by how much you love, and how much that love flows out of you and into the lives of others. Click To Tweet

4. That Charitable Thing You Started

We live in an amazing time where it’s easy to start almost anything you imagine, including a charity.

Charities are amazing, but they’re not church.

When the church gathers in worship, prayer, community, joins together on a mission to baptize people and grow people into the likeness of Christ…well that’s church.

I have a company outside the church that helps produce this blog, my podcast, books etc. Guess what? I think of it as a ministry, and it has huge ministry implications, but it’s not the church.

It never will be. Sure, we think of it in many ways as a ministry. And yes, we’re on mission to help leaders. But it ain’t church.

5. Coffee with friends

If you stop attending a local church, it’s easy to come up with substitutes for it, like having coffee (or meals, or whatever) with friends.

The early church didn’t change the world by gathering with friends for coffee.

By all means, be social. Hang out. Cultivate deep friendships. Hang out. Connect. But don’t fool yourself—that isn’t church either.

6. The Gathering at Your House

I understand that this one will be a little controversial, but most of the time, that gathering in your house ain’t church either.

Even if you gather to pray, study scripture, fellowship and celebrate communion, it may still not be the church. Why?

Too often house church functions as a community of people who are fleeing the church, who have been hurt by the church, or who are rejecting the local churches in their neighbourhood.

Rarely (I mean rarely, it’s not like it never happens) do I see a house church really embrace the full mission of the church, which would include evangelism  baptizing new disciples, community service, giving financially beyond itself and an outward focus that brings more people into the Kingdom.

If that happens—and occasionally it does—then that is church. The problem of course, is that when you embrace all of that, it won’t be long until you outgrow your living room…and you start gathering in public space because you can’t squeeze into a home anymore.

But if it’s just the eight of you year after year after year after year…it probably ain’t church.

7. A walk in the woods/on the beach

I love nature. My wife really loves nature.

Almost all of us feel closer to God in nature. And some personality types feel extremely close to God in nature—maybe even closer than they feel in church.

But your subjective feeling is no substitute for a timeless mission. God didn’t just call us to feel him. He calls us to serve him.

Your subjective feeling is no substitute for a timeless mission. God didn't just call us to feel him. He calls us to serve him. Click To Tweet

8. Family devotions

I love my family. You love yours. And family devotions are wonderful.

When you’re on vacation, I get that you may do family devotions on a Sunday rather than a long drive into a local church.

But a steady diet of family devotions—even daily devotions—isn’t church because your family isn’t baptizing people, reaching out into the community, serving, or even moving beyond itself to engage the world for which Christ died.

Authentic mission has to go beyond you to someone else and embrace and include them.

Family devotions may be sincere and convenient, but they’re no substitute for the Kingdom of God.

9. Church surfing

Church shopping is one thing. But I’ve met a growing number of people who are doing what I can only call church surfing.

They may go to the 9 a.m. service at one church, and then sample the later service at another, and then they switch it up against next weekend, adding maybe a third church into the mix.

It’s like serial dating with no engagement, commitment or even investment.

Once again, it’s an expression of a consumer culture—take, but feel no obligation to give.

Of course, a significant life is rarely measured by what you consume. It’s measured by what you contribute.

Church surfing contributes almost nothing to the true mission of the church.

A significant life is rarely measured by what you consume. It's measured by what you contribute. Click To Tweet

10. Anonymity

So let’s say you show up at the same church whenever you attend, but you sit in the back row, anonymously. You don’t engage, don’t serve, don’t invite, don’t join the mission. You just…sit.

That’s not much different than just consumption, except it’s analog, not digital.

It’s hard to build the future of the church on someone who consumes and never contributes. And it’s hard to build a meaningful, resilient life, when all you do is consume, not contribute.

So contribute. Serve. Invite. Give. Do community.

You’re called to be the church, not just attend one.

You're called to be the church, not just attend one. Click To Tweet

Three Questions

If you find your church attendance declining or evaporating, ask yourself:

  • Are my current patterns leading me to greater devotion to Jesus?
  • Am I serving, inviting, giving and helping to make new disciples?
  • Is this really about me, or is it about seeing the Kingdom of God flourish and expand around me?

If you’re a church leader, I hope this helped frame or at least spark some thinking on what’s happening around us, within us and in our culture.

In an era where everything is become hyper-individualist and hyper-convenient, it’s wonderful to get together and participate in something that inconveniences me, challenges me, stretches me, grows me, makes me uncomfortable and does something great for the world in the name of Jesus.

When the early church did just that, it changed not only millions of lives, it changed history.

How To Reach More People (the Church Growth Masterclass)

 

Getting a stuck church growing, or helping a church that’s reaching new people grow even further can be daunting.

It doesn’t have to be.

Whether you’re a church that isn’t growing, has plateaued, or whether you wish your church was growing faster than it is, I’d love to help you break through. That’s why I created the Church Growth Masterclass.

The Church Growth Masterclass is everything I wish I knew about church growth when I got into ministry more than 20 years ago.

Naturally, I can’t make a church grow. You can’t make a church grow. Only God can do that.

But I believe you can position your church to grow.

You can knock down the barriers that keep you from growing. You can eliminate the things that keep your church from growing and implement some strategies that will help you reach far more people. That’s what I’d love to help you do in the Church Growth Masterclass.

In the Church Growth Masterclass I’ll show you:

  • The 10 reasons your church isn’t growing
  • Why even committed church-goers aren’t attending as often as before
  • How to tell if your church leaders are getting burned out
  • The 5 keys to your church better impacting millennials.
  • What to do when a church wants to grow … but not change
  • 5 essentials for church growth
  • 5 disruptive church trends to watch—and how to respond
  • How to increase church attendance by increasing engagement.

The Masterclass includes a complete set of videos that you can play with your team, board or staff, PDF workbooks that will help you tackle the issues you’re facing, and bonus materials that will help you navigate the most pressing issues facing churches that want to reach their cities today.

You can learn more and gain instant access to the course today.

What Do You See?

We live in a fascinating time and moment in history.

What are you sensing, learning and experiencing when it comes to church attendance?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

58 Comments

  1. Joy on September 4, 2019 at 8:58 pm

    I would add a lot of what goes on in the Sunday morning show as “ain’t Church.”

  2. Kawanis hall on June 1, 2019 at 10:51 am

    This have been so educational to me

  3. David Rairdon on May 29, 2019 at 9:05 am

    Thanks for sharing your heart on this. It is a very complex and yet simple matter. I find myself at 73 in a position not addressed which is a spouses declining health which makes serving in the body more and more difficult. We love listening to online sermons, podcasts, worship, and have supported some for many years. We even had our own house church for years and was truly a good functioning house church. It a lot of work and same problems any church has and eventually got to large for a home. There is no substitute for the local body. When our 22 son died in an auto accident our local church and small group was a huge support. We have been with this church for over 30 years and would not trade it for anything and we have seen it all. People don’t stop and think about body function. The hand does not function by itself and neither does any other part of the body. We need the local church and all that it entails good and bad. The body does not function over the airwaves. We need each other eye to eye and hand in hand.

  4. Carol A Brown on May 27, 2019 at 9:33 pm

    Your original post was interesting and thought provoking, but the long list of replies will stay in my mind permanently. I never knew there was so much bitterness attached to church attendance. Perhaps all those hurt and disillusioned people can come together to form a more perfect church?

    • Janis on May 27, 2019 at 9:56 pm

      touche’

    • Ann Wingert on May 28, 2019 at 4:34 am

      It is even a special branch of psychology – Church Hurt

  5. Phil Snow on May 25, 2019 at 12:43 am

    This fellow has an extremely narrow minded definition of “church,” but even that word and that concept isn’t Biblical!
    Jesus said “Wherever Two of you are gathered in my name I am there with you!” That’s good enough for me.
    Church of 2 or Church of Few is very valid. Over coffee or in the forrest are where ever you happen to meet.
    This author sounds like he just wants to keep the check coming in rather than to return to Jesus plan and what worked for the first 300 years of the faith!

    • Maureen Collins on May 25, 2019 at 5:05 am

      I have MS and cannot get into churches, I watch CWW on Revelation TV, I feel I am protected, loved and prayed for by the team on CWW, I receive communion every day by watching online communion services. when I was in a church they kept promising a ramp, accessible toilet and help into the church… after 6 years it wasn’t done, to top it all, I was leading the church prayer line, which was destroyed by one member saying we have a ministry team who will help those in need why do we need prayer, so the prayer line was taken away, in fact everything I offered to do to use the gifts God has given me, ie I’m an artist with computer skills, the church asked if anyone could take on the artwork in the church magazine, I offered the pastor said he would see, then gave the job to someone who couldn’t cope, also the pastor was against any of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so I have left and am spiritually blessed like never before with wonderful teaching. Sadly the churches where I live on an Island are not living according to God’s word, why would I want to put myself under them for spiritual guidance, doesn’t God’s word say, I will be your teacher says the Spirit of God? I meet with others in my home, we are an intercessory prayer group, this is my church… not some cold building that cares only for full pews.

    • Tommy on May 27, 2019 at 9:37 am

      But didn’t Jesus tell his disciples to go and make new converts and baptise them (Mt 28) and celebrate the Lord’s supper. The second of two passages where Jesus actually talks about church (ekklesia) it is in the context of church discipline (Mt 18). That assumes a committed community. How can all that be done by 2 or 3 people meaningfully long-term? You are quoting Jesus out of context. If the group follows Jesus call to go beyond themselves and do all these various things mentioned by him the living room will soon prove insufficient and the coziness of likemindedness does usually not further spiritual growth. I like his thought of contributing rather than consuming – it’s uncomfortable but sanctifying which always requires uneasiness…

    • Jason on June 19, 2019 at 5:49 pm

      How do you live out the instruction of Hebrews 13:17 if you’re not connected and submitted to any sort of leadership structure?

    • Carolynne on June 20, 2019 at 3:16 pm

      Amen to Phil Snow. Wherever 2 or 3 are gathered together..they can be church..if they build upon their most holy faith by contacting and relying on Holy Spirit. This should then convince to draw others to the Lord, disciple those new believers to the best of their ability. Encourage each other in your tiny group, to choose and support viable missions and/or a local charity or ministry. It’s all about living what you believe and letting others be drawn to your giftings, by God’s miracles, signs and wonders. This in turn helps other seekers or believers in need of friends or healing or other things to know where to turn. God provides through us as born-again folk. AND to keep growing in their giftings and sharing those gifts with others out in your community or sphere of influence. THAT IS CHURCH….most of the churches we have attended have become so ‘similar in the processes’ [songs, announcements, giving, a sermon and then hurry off for lunch] nothing but ‘entertainment’ and the focus is on those entertaining from the stage with LOUD LOUD LOUD Music. Not on worship as I understand it – but music as in “Viva Las Vegas” worldly concerts. I feel that the world is seeping in to church and causing, especially the older folk to stay away or just stick around because church is a habit. I do not think God is deaf, [unless he has become so in the last few years by attending church]…but the hope we should have of Holy Spirit coming to that church is slim to none!! It’s like my old drinkin’bar days -rock and roll and nothing sacred or special

  6. Gary Matthews on May 21, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    I’ve grown up in church. I have always loved everything church. Being in every possible area of being used, my wife and I brought our two (now adults) children in everything also. We have loved people, cared for them, cried with them and comforted them in All areas of their lives.
    The one thing we never recieved from any church, (from Babtist to Assembly of God to word of Faith), is the fact that Father has had everyone of us in His mind from before the foundation of the world and Jesus is the Lamb that was slain before time began and has made every provision for every person that has ever breathed or will ever breathe, regardless if they agree with Papa’s love, or not.

    We never heard that when Jesus came, He came to disassemble the religious mindset about God always being separated from mankind because He was either mad at us, dissappointed in us, was grieved by something did that displeased Him or we were simply “sinners” and He could not stand to be in the presence of sin because He is Holy. We were taught that all mankind is separate until we completed what Jesus said He completed on the cross, by actually repeating a pray and ask for the forgiveness He already gave on Calvery. We were never told that God was in christ reconciling the world back to Him, not holding their sins against them.
    It seems that the traditions of separation gain a higher value than what Jesus, as saviour of the the world accomplished for all mankind. It is through His Faith (not our faith) by Grace (that is Jesus) that we are positioned in Christ and we didnt accomplish it by a simple prayer ( it actually found in scripture) or we would boast that we “did it” (but that is exactly what we do !)

    So when we find these truths out to be true and nothing can separate us from the love of God, we dont want to go back to CHURCH that tells us we are sinful, headed for hell and will always need the church as our foundation, so we need to come back 3 times a week and never call, our pastor by His first name, no matter how close we get because the pastor is our shepherd. The normal church never co tunes to tell all visitors that no matter what they have done, Jesus still loves them and even what they have done in the body has not separated them from Him OTHER THAN IN THEIR MIND.

    No one wants to come to a place/building that tells them they lack what the “regular attenders” have and that they are Lost. This is the height of arrogance and elitist and just like the religious folk on earth when Jesus came. He came to stop the I sanity.

    This is my belief and I know it is God’s plan to judge (restore, refine and purify (fire of God) all humans simply because Adam is not more powerful than Jesus. Yet we are to,d we are still in the situation because of Adam. Wow. The church does t believe Jesus is enough. We must add our approval to solidify it.

    So sad.

  7. Mary Anna DeForrest-Pearce on May 17, 2019 at 8:35 pm

    Re #3: In the 80s there was a book, Will Oral Roberts Bury Your Father?, that was very popular among small church pastors who lost out to the televangelists every Sunday, but had pastoral responsibility for their flock. The more things change….

  8. Tim Akers on May 17, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    You have a few good points here, but a great many faulty assumptions based solely on modern church customs (19th century and newer). Also, you need to use scripture if you really want authority in your points. Otherwise, it’s just your opinion , right?

    Faulty Assumption : “Spirituality Has Become an Individual Pursuit.”

    For the record, spirituality has always been an individual pursuit. While I cannot say that we are to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb 10:25), that does not necessarily mean Sunday morning services are the only way to meet that criteria. Keep in mind that according to Matthew 18:20 I just need one other person to gather with me in the name of Jesus and I’ve already met Heb 10:25. I guarantee you that when we stand before the judgement seat of Christ, the only account I have to give is for the things I’ve done, not what you’ve done (2Cor 5:10) not what you’ve done.

    Your Article Suffers from A Narrow Definition of Church

    While it is true that I cannot say I have no need for others in the Body of Christ, attending Sunday mornings has never been a requirement for connecting with the body of Christ at anytime. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve met other believers in strange out of the way places, only to have a wonderful time together with the blessing of the Lord’s presence in our midst. Remember Matthew 18:20

    “…church online is a step out of church, not into church.” I genuinely think that shows your own bias as opposed to any reference to biblical truth. Church is wherever believers gather (two or more).

    Online services are often the only way one can find quality and scriptual teaching. When you had things like messenging, Facetime, and email; Online can take on new dimensions that your article doesn’t even allude to.

    Faulty Assumption: “The early church didn’t change the world by gathering with friends for coffee.”

    That statement is ignorant of biblical history. Acts 2:42 “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,…” Sure they gathered in the temple, but they gathered together in homes “…with friends for coffee.” When you think about it, the early church didn’t change the world by gathering in church or in homes, they changed the world by going out into it 2×2.

    “Church Surfing”

    Again, you seem to assume that a connection at a different church with different people is shallow and there is no contribution happening. “Church surfing contributes almost nothing to the true mission of the church”. Remember “two or more”?

    If I go someplace, or multiple some places for church, I contribute in some form or other. It may be an offering, a kind word, changing a flat tire for someone in the parking lot, but that is contributing. Maybe you don’t contribute, or don’t receive contributions when you got various places, but I would put the onus of that on you.

    I really think you might consider expanding your definition of church a little.

    • Chris C on May 17, 2019 at 1:59 pm

      Tim, a MOST EXCELLENT response here. Thank you.

    • Woody Walls on May 17, 2019 at 2:04 pm

      Let me help you with some context of Matthew 18:20, because it is not what you are trying to make it. Matthew 18:20 is in the middle of teaching on restoring a brother (conflict resolution, church discipline) not a teaching on what constitutes church. Your use of it to “prove” your point is misguided and misleading. Context and the original intent of the author drive our Hermeneutic, not what we want the verse to say.
      You meeting with another Christian 1 on 1 might be discipleship, but it is not church by any means.

      So your entire argument here is not really on a firm foundation since your foundational verse is taken and used out of context.

      Here is the entire context of Matthew 18:20:

      15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.”

      A narrow view of what constitutes church is needed: gathering together for worship, baptism and communion, preaching/teaching, missions, practicing the numerous “one anothers” laid out in scripture constitute the work of the church.

      • Chris C on June 20, 2019 at 4:22 pm

        Oops! You were doing pretty good until your last paragraph. Gathering together for worship is not really why we gather together. Rom 12 ‘spiritual act of worship’ does not require a gathering. Baptism does not require a large gathering (although it is public). Communion does not require a gathering. Preaching is to the world that they might be saved and does not require a gathering. (i.e. How often have you heard someone proclaiming some truth and another says, ‘Preach it!”. Preaching is proclaiming, whether on a stree or proclaiming truth to another while in their living room). Missions does not require a gathering. Practicing the ‘one anothers’ does require ‘another’ but not a gathering. Truthfully, the one anothers are best practiced in the course of one’s daily life rather than in an hour or two gathering. All these things are indeed the work of the Church, the ecclessia, but they do not require a gathering, a pastor, a government approved legal entity or a weekly place of meeting.

        In regards to Matt 18:20, telling the ‘church’ is relaying the information that a brother is no longer actively acting like or conducting him/her self as a Christ-follower. Then, in turn, treating them like a Gentile or tax collector would be treating them like, oh, you know, someone who needs to be loved and invited into relationship with Christ, because we would treat those nasty ole Gentiles and tax collectors like dirt, you know, like Jesus treated Matthew….

        Submitting to your leaders??? Ah, yes, surely that can be done within the context of the natural discipleship of one to another. If I disciple another, or am a spiritual ‘father’ (as Paul described himself) am I not a leader with (by definition) some degree of authority and wisdom for another?

        Paul told Timothy to train up reliable men. There are indeed individuals who should be recognized as spiritually mature, wise and someone to heed. Unfortunately, todays ‘church’ practice is to elect or appoint a volunteer based not on their maturity or wisdom but on their willingness to serve a 2,3 yr term and then they’re ‘done’. For the most part, those who are electd in many (most) of our churches are not of the caliber req’d though, sometimes that is indeed the case, thankfully.

        The point is, NONE of what scripture teaches us, needs to be done ONLY within the confines of an organization, in a building as practiced throughout the west today. However, it CAN be done there as well as elsewhere.

        • TDuncan on June 20, 2019 at 6:10 pm

          THANK YOU Chris C for your last paragraph. Clearly there is no RIGHT and WRONG here. But that one can be “the church” ANYWHERE and ANYWAY. And that any of these types of “churches” can be AMAZING and can be HORRIBLE. What matters is whether they are led and inspired by God, to His will, and with His spirit. These conversations have been so encouraging to me to because I am realizing I don’t need to find the “right way”. But rather I should continue to help steer our church down a path that provides the “old style” while also creating new and different ways for us to bring others into relationship with Christ. That’s our purpose is it not?

          • Chris C. on June 20, 2019 at 7:20 pm

            Amen Brother! Making disciples, that they may know the Father (Jn 17:3) and live an abundant, eternal life in which, we as well, bring Glory to the Father by completing the ‘works’ (as Jesus did Jn 17:4)prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10). Not works for salvation but works in response to what we hear via the Spirit, in obedience to the Father.



    • Gary Davis on May 19, 2019 at 8:28 am

      Thank you for using the Spirit inspired Words of God. Refreshing Truth.

    • Carolynne on June 20, 2019 at 3:24 pm

      A. M . E . N . Tim Akers

  9. Mike on May 16, 2019 at 10:08 pm

    No matter how many times I see something about declining church attendance, I never see the two biggest reasons addressed.

    1) People stop going because they don’t believe it is true.
    There are people in your church that do not believe it is true but go because someone wants them to. But eventually going to church to please someone else isn’t enough to please that someone else and it becomes better to be honest and stop going.

    2) Church is designed to be a horrible place for people who are not extroverts.
    Maybe there are people who don’t get crippling anxiety when they’re required to be in a room with a hundred people who feel they have a right to ask prying, personal questions. Maybe there are people who can worship while knowing they have to stay quiet about how the sermon was based on a mistranslation and was just an excuse for the pastor to spew hate at whoever it was trendy to hate that week, and maybe for some people it’s not painful to sing hymns next to the wife of the guy who took your virginity when you were five. Maybe there are people who can handle one more week of the same woman telling you that you should date her niece and a couple asking you the exact same questions that they did the last dozen times they cornered you because they can’t think of anything to say but they’re certain that you really just want to talk to people even though you’re trying desperately to get away, and any number of people trying to coerce you into some leadership position saying it’s because you know more about the Bible than anyone else in the church but making it clear that they really believe that being around people all the time with no respite is what you really need and it has been made very clear to you that you’re a bad person for hurting them if you ever let them know that all that pressure makes you cry for hours as soon as you can be alone. But in the church the people who don’t feel this kind of pain in social situations show no interest in even acknowledging that it’s possible that others do.

  10. Mike Warren on May 16, 2019 at 1:23 pm

    Wow, you make some great points! I was wondering though why you don’t use any Scripture? That seems odd to me. You mention 1Corinthians but that’s it. No Hebrews 10.24, 25 or Acts 2? Why?

  11. Bob Piccola on May 16, 2019 at 1:15 pm

    T-ball and soccer on Sundays. Big problem!

  12. Sarah G on May 16, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    What bothers me is that some of us drop their attendance not because of laziness or consumerism. Some people drop attendance because of problems like mental health (it is mental health awareness week here in the UK) and in many cases the church communities do not look kindly on those when complex mental health problems. Unless they are the ones who shout the loudest. I struggle with anxiety and often find that church is far more scary than it needs to be. It never used to. I can only go if I have a friend to meet me there. I have, over 15 years, contributed in more ways than one, but when I’ve needed support with my mental health more recently I’ve been missed…

  13. Janis on May 16, 2019 at 11:21 am

    Another related thought, what if another complicating factor is that individuals who treat church attendance as a product, or commodity, something they buy or acquire or use, without the commitment to belong or deeply engage or become a true participant, still want all the perks of belonging… I’ve seen that, too.

  14. Jason Krohn on May 16, 2019 at 8:30 am

    Thanks for having the willingness to share your thoughts Carey. I always find your posts challenging and refreshing.

    This post reminded me of growing up with my father. Every Sunday morning we would head to church as a family, then on Sunday Nights usually we’d head back. Sometimes with everyone…sometimes just me and dad. One night in the car I was ranting about having to go back to on Sunday night. “Mom wasn’t going, my sisters weren’t going, my friends weren’t going,”…. Dad and I had a real conversation about being men, making church a habit, and being committed to something that was “not all about us. We “agreed to disagree” and I still went with him to Sunday Night church.

    Fast forward 25 years and I can point back to critical moments in my faith and this conversation coming to mind. I’m incredibly grateful that my mom and dad “drug me to church” even when I didn’t want to go. It’s helped me to develop an others-centered mentality. That’s now transferring to my kids.

    I’m a pastor, and I can honestly say as someone that also has an easily accessible church online experience, rising attendance, but not frequency of attendance, and many of the other things you’ve mentioned… IT SCARES ME TO DEATH FOR MY PEOPLE SOMETIMES. I desperately want them to have a vibrant faith. I see the patterns of people within my church that do. When I see people deviating from the pattern or using poor substitutes for it and then their faith taking a hit, I hurt for them.

    I’ve always thought church attendance was a spiritual discipline. In part, because of that conversation with my father. In part, because of the fruit it has produced in my own faith and the fruit I see it produces in others. So, flexing and developing that spiritual muscle is totally worth it every time.

    Thanks again for helping us voice our fears for others and Captial C church.

  15. Kim Zimmerman on May 16, 2019 at 7:07 am

    So much wrong here. I am a pastor in a House Church Network, and it is church. I am pretty sure the Bible in Acts (which is the history of the church) teaches about meeting House to House, multiple times. I am also sure that Jesus commands us to Go, make disciples. Not to build bigger churches for people to sit. Too much of the ministry happens inside the 4 walls of the church building, when that is just not what happened in Acts. Have you read Acts? It seems to me, there is a lot of ‘cut and pasting’ of scripture to make your theme sound clever.

    • E Weaver on May 16, 2019 at 10:19 am

      THANK YOU. As someone who was raised Sunday AM and PM, Wed Night, Thurs Night visitation and Sat visitation sometimes, church was hell growing up. I was always exhausted by it. It wasn’t – and for my parents still isn’t – the rest scripture provides.

      Should we even go on about how there’s no grace in here for the hurting? The damaged? Those working 9-5 for whom church is actually a large part of their free weekend time that they aren’t spending resting on the Sabbath, or with their families? Oh goody, another church attendance post from someone for whom church is the center of their life, lacking the understanding that 40+ hours a week, most people have to be devoted to other things to keep a roof over their heads.

      This: “In an era where everything is become hyper-individualist and hyper-convenient, it’s wonderful to get together and participate in something that inconveniences me, challenges me, stretches me, grows me, makes me uncomfortable and does something great for the world in the name of Jesus.” Is a blatant statement to the author’s own self righteousness, not a statement of honoring Christ, devotion to God or His people, or a binding up of the brokenhearted. All I learned from this piece is that Carey Nieuwhof worships church attendance, which is, funnily enough, a sign of the start of spiritual abuse in most churches.

      So many red flags here. This made me mad. The poor people under this man.

      • Anita Bagnall on May 28, 2019 at 4:37 am

        Good comment. I didn’t grow up “unchurched” but overchurched in catholicism, cath school, fasting at home, feeling made to go to church. I got saved by radio accepting Bill Bright’s invitation to listeners to pray the sinners prayer at the of being interviewed by a close friend/former ministry worker prior to his death in 2003. Whom ever the Son sets free is free indeed. And for the abused or burnt out on cults or cult-like churches, that freedom means everything. Especially for those of us who must choose most wisely where we can safely rest our vulnerabilities.

    • Anita Bagnall on May 28, 2019 at 4:35 am

      Good comment.

    • Anita Bagnall on May 28, 2019 at 4:39 am

      Thank you for your comment, enjoyed reading it and agree.

  16. Valerie on May 16, 2019 at 6:51 am

    “I hear this multiple times a week from people all over the world. Literally. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again: the church is all too often the scariest place, rather than the safest place, for fallen people to fall down and broken people to break down. ” Tullivan Tchividjian

    God forbid we get real with anyone and admit we are anything but “fine”. #weneedsanctuaries

  17. SS on May 15, 2019 at 11:52 pm

    You don’t go to church, you are the church. Flowery and poetic Carly. Its true cause God said it but be honest the church is ran by the pastor and the board and if you dont fit in they will kick you out no matter how faithful you are. No matter if you gave your all, all your time and the money you had.
    What kind of people does the church say they are, and who do they serve? Be honest, church is geared toward and accepting and set to serve families,the married, the dating couples. kids of all ages, the widowed, the divorced and the single parents, all of them except the never married who is childless and over 40. The never married who does not have kids and are over 40 are seen as a threat and as man or women hunting whores by the pastor, the board the widowed, the divorced and the single parents. The never married who does not have kids and are over 40 are seen as threats to the pastors ministry, to the dating couples, to their marriages and to their families. I cant start my own church cause God didnt call me to. So whats a girl to do? Keep going to church right and get treated like a whore and like = a threat and kicked out again right, but at least the families get served, the pastors get their help and the families get their baby sitters so they get a rest for from the kids they had. I’m all for serving but I’m seen as a threat. I’m only seen as the vital part of the church when it comes time to serve., but as a threat and as man hunting whore when service is over.

    • Pastor Helen Brereton on May 16, 2019 at 12:16 am

      SS – I am so sorry that you have experienced abuse like this in the church. I am sorry that men and women in positions of power in the church have projected onto you their own sin and insecurities. I pray that you will find a faith community where you and everyone else in it are welcomed, loved and valued much, much more for who you are, than what you can do, or give to the community.

      • SS on May 26, 2019 at 12:58 am

        Thank you Pastor Helen Brereton. I got involved in another church right when I got kicked out. The thing is theres no guarantee that this pastor wont kick me out because theres no reason for him not to. I dont fit in. I’m in my 40’s, I never been married, divorced or widowed. Im not a teenager, nor am I a child and I’m not rich even though I give my tithes and offerings every Sunday. I don’t do nothing what is deemed important in the church. So why wouldnt he kick me out when someone is deemed important has an issue with me even though I don’t bother no one. I stay to myself just like I did in the church that kicked me out. The truth is the church is for the married, widowed and the divorced and the kids of all ages. Older singles are seen as a threat to the pastor’s ministry, marriage, and to the other married people marriages. Older singles are just not welcomed. Theres no support. But when the churches do give what they call
        Support its usually written in big caps because to draw attention to it because they know its so unusual to give a sermon on the subject and its always about how not to have sex, wait for your mate and how to wait for your mate and what you should be doing in between you waiting for your mate🤦‍♀️ SS

    • Kate on May 16, 2019 at 7:48 am

      You should call New Life Ministries

  18. Jason on May 15, 2019 at 10:38 pm

    This sounds more like a rant to promote the master class, there have been many house churches that have grown into something larger. I think we forget that sometimes church is not a building to live in but it’s the people.

  19. Darryl on May 15, 2019 at 8:01 pm

    Damn! Carey! You’re on fire in this. Thanks for wrestling with this with us. Got anything on learning to love the church again? (or keeping the homefires burning?) Thanks for your voice.

  20. Mark Bell on May 15, 2019 at 4:19 pm

    Thanks. Good food for thought. I’m sure that is why you write – to get people to think!

  21. George on May 15, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    When the local church begins to see the community as their mission field and dedicates themselves to minister to the needs of the people in their communities great things will happen. Many of the tools used to reach people who do not attend are designed to find a bridge leading to reaching them and then demonstrating real love for them. All of us naturally want to be surrounded by those who offer positive, and sincere love and concern for us. I believe Every dedicated Church Leader should take this course

  22. steve on May 15, 2019 at 12:19 pm

    “… a house church really embrace the full mission of the church, which would include evangelism baptizing new disciples, community service, giving financially beyond itself and an outward focus that brings more people into the Kingdom.

    If that happens—and occasionally it does—then that is church.”

    I actually chucked a bit here; as I was thinking the same about many of the churches I’m familiar with!

    Point: Despite their building, organization, and a designated pastor… many churches would not successfully pass the criteria you’ve laid out for being a ‘real church’!

    • Kevin on May 15, 2019 at 2:56 pm

      Oh how trendy it has become to dis the local church. Do we not know that the local church is God’s idea? Did we never see how Jesus addressed local churches in Rev. 2-3? Did we not notice that He actually knew individuals that were part of those congregations and their activities? Do we not read the book of Acts that clearly shows that the N.T. believers gathered TOGETHER weekly to participate in meetings that were supposed to be for instruction, fellowship, worship, prayer and communion? Do we not see the 30+ “One anothers” in the epistles? So how in the world do we think it’s O.K. to bash a local church because it has “problems” (Preacher is greedy, people are unfriendly, hypocrites and gossips) sorta like the Corinthian church that had it’s share of dysfunction and yet was still addressed by Paul as those “sanctified in Christ Jesus called to be saints”. If you can’t find a godly group of believers to meet with on a regular basis that practices the above activities of prayer, fellowship, communion, teaching, then perhaps God is calling you to plant a local church that will be just “right”. But to say we can serve Christ in maturity without the regular meeting together with other believers is as deceptive as it comes. Why don’t we realize that the church is both universal (all believers) and local just like the Word teaches. I have been to China and Vietnam and worshiped in house churches and guess what? They had a pastor! They had elders! They even had prayer and worship leaders! They had organization and order in their meetings. They were local churches even though most of them just met in the room of a house. There are still many good local churches that are making disciples and winning the lost. I won’t keep my eyes on those who make merchandise of the gospel or keep my eyes on those who do church as a business, I will keep my eyes on Christ and love the Bride that He died for and love her the way I love Him because without the local church the great commission is impossible.
      Kevin

    • John on May 15, 2019 at 6:34 pm

      Spot on here Steve.

      #11 A majority of churches by name in America………….
      Because they are not doing what you say cultivates a true church that meets at a house.

    • Jenae on May 15, 2019 at 9:01 pm

      Come to Nebraska!

      • Jenae on May 15, 2019 at 9:12 pm

        The “Come to “Nebraska” was in reference to those who claimed they did not recognize any local churches like the churches described here in Carey’s piece. They come in many shapes, sizes, and denominations, some in small towns, some in the country, and some in the larger towns and cities. Not all are perfect, not all have left the 1950s model of what it means to “be the church,” but hospitality and genuine community still live in the fly-over heart of the bread basket we call home.

  23. T Duncan on May 15, 2019 at 10:20 am

    I’m surprised, and then I am not at yet another article that shames people into going to church, that says you really are not a Christian if you don’t go to church.
    Thank you Chris C.
    And Michael, great points: “Once we help each other identify the real hunger we have- for God , we can also see where to find God in his Body, the Church. And to do that we need to love freely, inclusively and without prejudgment.”
    Meet people at their need, not at where you sit comfortable in a pew.

  24. son on May 15, 2019 at 10:01 am

    Carey, I hate to tell you but “the church” is a business. They want to spend your money, just like the government. I have attended a few churches over the past thirty years and it’s always the same thing. The pastor just wants your money. So, I don’t go. When God wants money from me, He tells me and I give it to Him. Why doesn’t Joel Osteen “sell everything he has and give it to the poor?” Wouldn’t that set a good example? I’m sick and tired of the hypocrisy at “church”.
    Respectfully,
    Dave

  25. Gary G on May 15, 2019 at 9:56 am

    Man, Chris C, you nailed it. Well said.

    I think #6 gets close to the point, but ends up missing it. What defines a church is that if fulfills “the full mission of the church, which would include evangelism, baptizing new disciples, community service, giving financially…” This can happen in a church building, a rented hall or a large living room. Or under a tree. The location doesn’t matter. The function does.

    And I would expand on #10. You can easily sit anywhere in a rented hall, a church or cathedral, and not connect. Because it’s really hard to interact with people in a meaningful way while you stare at the back of their noggin during a rock concert or a long motivational speech. Which is what western church has become, for the most part. The culturally defined architecture [sitting in rows, watching the performance] works against community, and engenders passivity.

    You are asking good questions. But the answers look different when you are outside the box.

  26. Lyle Williams on May 15, 2019 at 9:53 am

    Some of what you say I agree with, however my wife is in her 15 year with Parkinson Disease and “going to church” is getting
    more difficult. I am so grateful that we can live stream the service from our church. Even on a Sunday when Communion is
    observed, my wife and I have shared the bread and the cup in a most uplifting spiritual experience.

    You will do well in your post to leave room for those who physically cannot go to a church building on a Sunday. And least we
    forget I believe the Bible does say that “Where two or three art gathered in His name……..He is in their midst.

  27. Becky on May 15, 2019 at 9:33 am

    Being in a multi cultural and denominational family, attending church is difficult. We want to go but not many accept Muslims and Christians.

    • Michael Marien on May 15, 2019 at 9:58 am

      Thank you Carey for a thoughtful post. I’m presently chair of our parish Evangelization committee and also sit on our pledge committee as we continue to pay for our new church building. Most of what you have identified stems of course from our culture of individualism, but the good news is that people, especially youth have grown tired of it. Once we help each other identify the real hunger we have- for God , we can also see where to find God in his Body, the Church. And to do that we need to love freely, inclusively and without prejudgment.
      Just joined your site, so really looking forward to more great reflections!
      Blessings
      Michael

  28. Chris C on May 15, 2019 at 8:08 am

    Based on my own experience, I could write a book if I simply addressed the issues raised in this post. Those who have issues with ‘church as we know it today’ and those who advocate for ‘attending church as we know it today’ are talking past one another. Most are unable to discern the conditioning which has occurred and how it affects each one’s various viewpoints.

    I believe we are in a 50-100 year shift, driven by God Himself, that is no less of a cultural earthquake than Martin Luther’s 95 points and what came after. That change was not sudden, but it was equally profound. As this transformation takes place again, there are many who can only react to surface changes or the model in current use. The model of church as we know it today is changing. The essence of the ekklesia is not changing.

    We insist on redefining worship, not as Romans 12:1,2 describe it but as corporate music and singing. We love it, but it is not worship. It is valuable and it is praise, but most of the time it is not worship. Jesus specifically mentions ‘true worshippers’. Hmmm, I wonder why….?

    The basic tenets of church as we know it today could not / cannot be practiced in vast swaths of our world today due to persecution. Think early Christians in Roman catacombs, Chinese Christians and those in Muslim countries. Yet, the ekklesia multiplies rapidly today in those very places while we in the West who love our ‘church as we know it today’ wonder why no one commits anymore, why our children want nothing to do with ‘church as we know it today’, why we are declining in real and relative terms to our culture.

    The discussion cannot be about why ‘my model’ is better than ‘your model’. Being a Christ-follower is not about a ‘model’ of church as we know it today. It is truly about hearing the Master’s voice, obeying what we hear and sharing (because we will hear His voice ask us to) with others what He has done and wants to do. It is about joining Him on His mission, each of us in the way He has prepared for us to do it. This mission will involve commitment, relationships with others, and serving others.

    I’ll give it a rest, as incomplete as these thoughts are….

    • Tyler M on May 15, 2019 at 9:45 am

      This is spot on. Thank you for writing this reply. As a pastor at a church, I feel this same “cultural earthquake” happening. Oh, I pray for the day when the church is truly on mission again.

    • Tommy Niblack on May 15, 2019 at 11:56 am

      Amazing!!! I was going to comment, but there is no need, you’ve literally spoke my mind!
      I love Carey, and promote everything he does, but I have to say that on this I do not agree.
      WE are the church, and serving God has zero to do with welcoming someone into a building, or singing a billboard charting CCM song, or running lights and sound, but it does have everything to do with how we live our daily lives for His glory. Doing that stuff in “that” setting is just a small piece of the larger pie.

      • Tommy Niblack on May 15, 2019 at 11:58 am

        I was referring to Chris C’s comment 😊

    • Steve W. on May 15, 2019 at 9:05 pm

      There are some fair critiques here of the church, but this doesn’t invalidate what Carey is saying. The simple fact is every time I’ve seen someone stop attending a local church consistently, they have become less Missional, even if their intention was to find other ways to engage with God’s mission in the world. If this really is a cultural turning point away from the common expression of the local church for the past 1800 years you’ll have to show me some fruit from the alternatives, and I’m just not seeing it. At the end of the day if we’re not meeting in a real local body that’s an anchor not a sail on our discipleship.

      And if Chinese and Middle Eastern Christians aren’t meeting regularly in local churches then what exactly are those buildings that the Chinese government is currently bulldozing and ISIS has been blowing up for the past half decade?

      Just because there are issues we need to do a better job of addressing in the local church doesn’t mean the local church is disposable. The only way to make real change is to show up. And frankly showing up to a local church (almost any local church) is far more formative than taking a walk in the woods every Sunday and getting together with a half dozen friends to watch a Matt Chandler sermon once a month.

  29. Ann Wingert on May 15, 2019 at 6:23 am

    I can give you 200 pages on why I am fleeing the Catholic Church in Terror.

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