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Why do 87% of Americans say Christians are judgmental?

Most people don’t want to go to church. But why? And what might interest them in joining a community of faith?

Those questions have sent us across the country looking for answers. After years of research and countless interviews, my wife, Joani, and I have finally collected our findings. They’re in a new book titled, no surprise, Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, with a subtitle of “And How 4 Acts of Love Will Make Your Church Irresistible.”

We found four recurring themes why the majority avoids church. Here’s a sneak preview from the book:

1. “I feel judged.” Gabe Lyons’ and David Kinnaman’s research in their book UnChristian confirms that “church people judge me.” According to their studies, 87 percent of Americans label Christians as judgmental. Fair or unfair, most people view the church as critical, disapproving, and condemning. Whether it’s behavior, looks, clothes, choice of friends, lifestyle decisions, or whatever, the church has a solid reputation for acting as judge and jury over our individual differences.

2. “I don’t want to be lectured.” More than ever, people today want to participate in the discussion. One man told us he’s talked with more than a thousand other men who’ve given up on church. He said, “Guys don’t want to sit in a room and idly listen to some preacher do all the talking. They want to ask questions. They want to share their thoughts, too.” The same goes for women. They don’t want another one-way lecture.

3. “Church people are a bunch of hypocrites.” This isn’t a small minority talking. A whopping 85 percent make this claim. We know, we know. Every church leader in America is weary of this “excuse.” But people aren’t merely referring to incongruous behavior. What bothers them is the sense that church leaders act as if they alone have all the answers. As if they’ve arrived. As if they’re only interested in telling others what to do—“teaching,” to use ministry vernacular.

4. “Your God is irrelevant to my life. But I’d like to know there is a God and he cares about me.” Research by the Barna Group reveals that only 44 percent of people who attend church every week say they regularly experience God at church. They’re not looking for the deep theological trivia that seems to interest a lot of preachers. They crave something rather simple. They want to be reassured that God is real, that he is more than a historical figure, that he is present today, and that he is active in the lives of people around them.

Whether we like it or not, this is what the population is saying about the church today.

Now, as God’s people, we can defensively bark back and shift the blame to all those heathens and backsliders who’ve abandoned the church. But that will do nothing but hasten the decline of the American church.

Or, we can explore ways to better be the church. That’s what led us to the “four acts of love” we describe in the book. When it comes to the plight of the church, one thing’s for sure. God has not given up on his church. He’s at work, urging his people forward. We simply need to get on board.  

Thom Schultz Thom Schultz is an eclectic author and the founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. Holy Soup offers innovative approaches to ministry, and challenges the status quo of today’s church.

More from Thom Schultz or visit Thom at http://holysoup.com/

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  • ptrofie

    While I agree that we need to change the way we do church…as a pastor, I know that I need to be much more prepared for a conversation than I do for a sermon. In a sermon I control the flow. In a conversation there is no telling what will happen, and I need to prepared to handle the “whatever”…and also not be afraid to say “That is a good question, and I do not have an answer. Let me research it and let you know what I find”

  • hmm

    TO BE HONEST WITH YOU FAR MORE PRIORITY IS PUT ON THE BUILDING THAN THE BODY. You are still a part of church if God dwells in you wether in prison in peril in fasting or despairing of life as paul put it even to the extent of a three year walk with God thru nothing but isolated wilderness. That being said. My hearts cry is for a leader that can in love lead me to be used of God in church by God. When I read the books of Corinthians I see the book of acts as possible this is how the Corinthians where trained. When I am told to do nothing but go to a church sit stand sit stand praise listen to preaching (which are of value don’t get me wrong) I do all these things at home and yet to show up amongst brothers and sisters full of the holy Spirit with a leader who says let the Spirit FLOW and with a divine grace to say let things be done in order and watch as those normal people just like me minister a psalm a song a short teaching and a prophet begin to flow and normal saints ministering unto the Lord and the Body as God directs it all. This is heavenly and pushes my confidence hope and yeildedness o the Lord to new levels that both thrill and fill as GOD HIMSELF is moving not thru one not thru several but many and I know He cares ! He cares ! and if He cares in the assembly if I listen At His prompting I am confident He cares enough to move thru me outside the assembly. OH the Longing that all may know and yield to His flow That a living God Is Walking among men !

  • Chris Kujawa

    Interesting points. And valid as well, but I tend to see most of these as symptoms of a larger issue in society. I’ll explain that in a minute, but I first want to say that on point one I would have to agree. I’ve seen time and again how church people “hate the sin but love the sinner.” Sure, there are lifestyle choices that are and affront to God. Yes, people sin. And people even have different styles and ways they dress. The thing is, we’re all sinners, and while we are indeed to help fellow CHRISTIANS follow Christ more closely, telling the world at large that the choices they make are sin comes off as being self righteous and judgmental since even if we are doing this in love, we don’t have the emotional cred with the world at large, so they don’t see it as love–the see it as finger pointing.

    As for the rest of the points…as a pastor I welcome conversations. But here’s the deal. I do a LOT of reading, research, and prayer before preaching. I know that many of the people in the congregation I serve do not. The Sunday sermon is often their only exposure to the Bible. So while I welcome dialogue and questions (I LOVE questions), I believe that the sermon helps set the stage for that dialogue. This objection is akin to walking into a university physics class and expecting to be able to discuss physics with the professor for the entire class instead of him teaching you. Our society seems to have a sense that they are experts on everything and don’t believe they need to be taught. The pastor has been given the authority to teach the content they are…respect that authority and use the sermon as the starting point for dialogue when they are finished teaching.

    As far as #3…the grocery store is full of hypocrites too. In fact, we ALL are hypocrites in some sense. I have yet to meet ANYONE who’s life choices ALWAYS match up with their rhetoric. Get over yourself.

    And number 4…this doesn’t happen at every church. It might take a bit of effort but there are many churches that regularly celebrate the fact that God is still alive and present–and deeply involved in humanity despite the way the world is headed. I pray that those people that claim this would stop using that as a reason to sit out life within a church community and start participating.

    • Kim Becker

      Chris, love your first paragraph. I actually hate the phrase “hate the sin but love the sinner”. It sound like we, the “good” Christians, are isolating ourselves from the “bad” sinners — the phrase is cliche’ and trite. We’re ALL sinners so it’s moot.
      One of the things that often makes me sad is how few people actually want to learn for themselves and read the bible themselves. I would hope the pastor’s teachings would fuel a desire to read Scripture and find answers directly through God, just like the pastor does when researching or reading or praying on a sermon. So I suppose that’s why the pastor is often the only Scriptural source for most church goers.
      I also believe many of these arguments for avoiding church are arguments against the church stereotype, and not against an actual church people have attended. We Christians haven’t been great at showing how good we can be at loving others. We’ve allowed televangelist church culture and the moral majority to speak for us most of the time; real church nourishes, encourages, and saves souls. It makes life liberating and redeemed.

  • Brian

    Solid, solid points! All are essential if we want to have a church that is TRULY “seeker sensitive”. And by seeker sensitive, I mean giving them what they are really seeking….and AUTHENTIC people, and a REAL, LIVING, and ACTIVE God….

  • wow good points

    How about reading the bible and finding no place and invitation to act when the Holy Spirit is moving. If all I can do is sit in a pew give money.Then for me the best part usually becomes praise and worship (which I also do outside the church along with study and prayer.What is pure and undefiled religion in Gods sight. Hint it’s not how many places I can send my pastor before he dies why i’m not meeting the basic signs following in the bible of those who believe.

    • outstanding testimony !

      out standing mature and simply a delight to read for a change of pace Word and Spirit yeah !

  • leilani haywood

    Good post!

  • Nate Schlomann

    1) Well that’s because Jesus is the ultimate evidence of God’s judgement upon mankind, and we the local church are His witness to that. Luckily for you, Jesus came to save and not judge, since you’ve already been judged. But until you’re redeemed, you’re going to feel judged indeed. God loves you like that.

    2) Well, too bad, you need to be lectured. Questions are healthy, but the local church has been about the proclamation of God’s Word and the truth of Jesus since day 1. You need a good lecture on truth – we all do.

    3) We’re all hypocrites. That’s the point of the Gospel. Grow up.

    4) God is irrelevant to your life BECAUSE your life is irrelevant. You need a new life. That is the POINT of the Gospel.

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