People Tend to “Drift” from Churches

When it comes to church, drift leads to distance and distance leads to disconnection – Dan Reiland

In a recent blog, Dan Reiland discusses the “5 Most Common Reasons for Church Drift.” I know that summer time often sees members on vacation or on weekend trips, and thus, not in church. We’re not talking about that. What Dan addresses and I want to also discuss is the matter of how people just sort of “drift” away from church. With worship participation hitting all-time lows, this is a conversation that is important – both to us as individuals and to the church-at-large as a whole.

[1] “The church doesn’t meet my needs.” In a time and culture with an infinity of choices a person can make, we tend to make decisions in terms of what we’re going to participate in based upon what we’re going to get out of the experience. This has been referred to as “Consumer Christianity.” The feeling goes something like this: “If the church would only do (name your interest or need and insert it here), I would be more regular and participate more often.” Like other aspects of life, people approach the church with their expectations…agendas…desires…demands. When these “needs” are not met in accordance to the person’s expectations, the church is considered to have “failed” them. The point is: Christ’s Church was never created to meet your expectations; the Church belongs to Christ and was formed to meet His expectations…”make disciples.” As we teach in the Lutheran circles, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.” (Apostles’ Creed, Third Article Explanation) The Church is established by God to be a place where His Word is heard and studied and His Sacraments are celebrated and received in order to make, develop, and grow disciples of Jesus Christ who, in turn, make disciples by sharing the Gospel with the people around them.

[2] “I attend online.” As Reiland points out, the technology that allows a homebound believer to follow along their church’s worship services is great. Because a person can’t be present doesn’t mean that can’t still hear and be refreshed while unable to attend. But nothing replaces human contact and personal connections. While watching the service online allows you to see and hear what’s going on, there’s no actual participation on your part – you are purely a spectator. Believers were never meant to individuals without connection to other believers – that’s why God pours out His Spirit on all believers, not just a select few. Think of it this way: As Interim Pastor, I’m here at Resurrection, but I’m not home with family. I talk to my wife on phone everyday – often a couple times a day; I sometimes meet one of my daughters at Starbucks, but the rest of the kids I speak by phone or possibly “Skype” with them. For Father’s Day, I received text messages from everyone – but I didn’t personally, physically interact with any of them. It’s just not the same as having everyone together, eating together, visiting, laughing, playing with the grandkids, etc. The same is true about your church family – you cannot interact with people that you’re supposedly going to spend eternity with simply watching services online.

[3] “My pastor made a decision I didn’t like.” That’s entirely possible because (a) not everyone sees eye-to-eye on everything, and (b) pastors can make mistakes just like the rest of us! As a pastor, I’ve been forced to make decisions based on the available information at the time that I neither liked nor was completely satisfied with. But decisions have to be made. Here’s the question: Was the decision made sinful? Or, was it subjective? If it was “sinful,” was it addressed or simply resented? If it was “subjective,” did you bother to ask “why” in order to understand the “what”? Leaders often make decisions that others either don’t understand or simply don’t like because the leader is looking at the “big picture” that members don’t know or grasp. Leaders make decisions that go against the personal agendas of members. If a person doesn’t have a conversation to learn the “why” behind the “what,” the relationship breaks down and misunderstanding begins to morph into distrust.

[4] “I don’t need church to be a Christian.” While, on one hand, it is true that one’s faith is personal in nature, on the other hand, our “faith” as God’s people is not. Faith is not individual: “God so loved the world,” not just a select few. Jesus died for me – yes; but, Jesus is “the atoning sacrifice for the whole world,” too. When a person comes to faith and is baptized into the faith, they are members of the Church – God’s people…called, gathered, enlightened, sanctified, and kept together in the kingdom of God as the kingdom of God. We were never meant to be alone – no more than Adam without Eve; we were created by the community of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – to be a community of that same true God. We don’t have to be a part of the church; we get to be part of God’s holy people…the body of Christ on earth…the holy Christian and apostolic Church that we confess in our Creeds.

[5] “The church is all about money.” Churches need money to conduct their business. They put together budgets to prioritize their spending. They have fiscal responsibilities to which they are obligated. But the matter of money is a personal stewardship concern more so than a corporate evil. Giving is a response to God, not a budgetary mandate. When I give to the church, I’m acknowledging (a) what God has given to me in terms of my time, talents, and treasure, and (b) what God has done for me in giving me forgiveness of sins, salvation through Christ, and the promise of eternal life in His heaven. God poured out the blood of His Son to make payment for my sins. Try putting a price on that! So, I give…I give to God through the church as my “thank you” for all that He has given to me and done for me. The support the church receives from me it receives out of my thanks-giving to God; what it does with that money should be for God’s purposes and ministry.

Of course, there are all kinds of “excuses” in addition to these “reasons” people give for drifting away from the church. But the point is this: God is as close or as far away as you and your heart. If God is close to you through your participation in His Word and Sacraments, your “hope” is secure in Him because your faith-relationship is strong. If God seems to be “far away,” who moved?

A young boy was looking up in the sky, watching the flight of a commercial airliner. He commented to his father, “It seems so small.” Dad replied, “Yes, it does, because it’s so far up in the sky.” They got into the car and drove to an airport not too far away, and they walked close to a plane similar to the one they had watched in flight, up in the clouds. “It’s so huge,” the boy exclaimed. “That’s right, son,” the father replied. “This plane is sort of like God – the closer you are, the bigger He is!”