Summary: Character among our church leaders and those who serve in ministry gives the church credibility to share the good news of Christ with others.
Church attendance on the Sunday after the September 11 attacks rose by 6% nationwide. However, seven weeks later, pollsters tell us that church attendance has settled back to the same level it was before the terrorist attacks. Just by way of contrast, the Sunday after President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, church attendance went up by 20%. So it seems odd that our nation would be facing our biggest crisis since World War II, and we’d only see a 6% increase and that it would only last a few weeks.
It’s tempting for us as the Christian community to point our finger at the unchurched in our community. We might be tempted to say, "People in our culture today are anti-Christian, so no wonder they aren’t in church during this time of crisis." Or we might be tempted to day, "Here’s another example of western individualism, where people don’t see their need for community." However I wonder if people’s lack of church attendance during this time of national crisis says more about the church than it does about the people who don’t attend.
Most non-Christians I know aren’t anti-Christian, but they are anti-church. In fact, most of my non-Christian friends believe in God and some even try to nurture some kind of personal spirituality, but they’re skittish of organized religion, the kind of thing they see in our churches. I saw this very kind of attitude in the TV show CSI this last week, when the main character was invited by a catholic priest to attend mass. The character replied, "I believe in God, but I don’t believe in religion." Translated that seems to mean, "I nurture my life with God in places other than the church."
And it’s also simply not true that most unchurched people are rugged individualists who avoid community at all costs. Many unchurched people nurture their spiritual lives in other community settings, whether it’s a yoga class or an AA meeting, a martial arts course or a book discussion group at Borders Books. The reality is that it’s not that unchurched people avoid community, but it’s that they avoid church. I suspect the lack of church attendance in the wake of our national crisis reveals something about the church in our culture.
We’ve been in a series through the New Testament books of 1 and 2 Timothy. We’ve been calling our series Deepening Your Life With God. We’ve seen so far that a deepened life with God comes as a result of three factors in our lives: Accurate beliefs, spiritual practices, and authentic Christian community.
It’s this authentic Christian community we’re talking about now. You see, attending worship services on Saturday night or Sunday morning is no guarantee that we’re experiencing authentic community. Many people in our culture "play church" the way children play dress up. They dress in their Sunday best, put on a phony happy face, pretend to be excited about God and want to learn about how to follow Jesus. This is a kind of superficial "churchianity," and it smells fake and phony. Playing church, or even going to church, can never be a substitute for authentic Christian community.