Several years ago, I posted this question on my facebook page: “For my friends who don’t attend church anywhere or did attend and have stopped, if you are willing to participate and be honest, I’d like to know why? You won’t receive any judgment or even a response from me unless you request one. I believe if, as a leader in a Christian Church, I can better understand the reasons people no longer attend church maybe I can better understand how to eliminate obstacles to the gospel. If you are uncomfortable posting feel free to inbox me. Look forward to reading your responses and thanks. Any takers?”
A common theme that runs throughout is that people feel judged when coming to church.
The following posts are typical of the judgment theme: “There hasn’t been too many things in my life I keep hidden, I sin and I know it and I have been judged for it, that’s okay I don’t even mind judgment from my fellow man that much as long as they are living the life they are guiding me to live but time and again I would see people who sit in judgment not being honest about their mistakes and not allowing themselves to be corrected as they corrected others. Often times I would want to go to church after it started and leave before it ended just to avoid the conversations that caused me to leave church feeling worse than when I came. I may not attend regular services but I still hold the church to a higher standard at times than it holds itself up to and so often I am let down by the changes that are coming about rapidly within Gods house just to please the world instead of instructing the lost.”
“Too much politics going on. And in one church, it was so big that you can’t remember anyone’s name. In another, it was too judgmental…no one would say “hi” but just nod. I had the feeling it was because the way we dressed. We are not rich so our clothes aren’t fancy enough. Oh, and another one brought me in front of the congregation and ask me everything about me…I kind of felt trapped. Never went back to that one. My husband and I try to teach as much as we can to our children at home. It’s more comfortable for us.”
“Church is painful for me. It feels as if I am in a funeral the whole service. A song, a verse of scripture, the way some one worships, sitting alone without my family, it is just too hard. I will never forget running from a church building when the pastor asks everyone to get with their family and come forward. I wept in my car. I could not even drive. I feel as if people go to church with no clue of the hurting soul beside them. The church is no longer a safe haven, but a place of judgment.”
“I went to church my entire life, practically. My childhood/teenage years were chaos due to family issues. Instead of having people there for me, I had people disappointed in me for not being the “perfect” example for my younger siblings. I had rumors spread about me. Horrible rumors at that and in my darkest moments, going through so much, people turned their backs on me. I have tried going to churches after all that I went through but the wounds are still extremely fresh and I just can’t. Fear of being turned on is still in the back of my head and the people that you should always be able to run to, well I will NEVER be comfortable with doing that again. P.S. I still deal with fakes in my life but have learned that is just who a lot of church going people are and that is sad. Why people can’t see their faults as Christians, is beyond me.”
Again, the emotions conveyed come through powerfully. As Christians we can absolutely do a better job of loving people. The tension that must be balanced is that the Bible does indeed call us sinners. Romans 3:23 indicts us all “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But God is the only one capable of sitting in judgment of sinners. We should seek to remove any and all obstacles to the gospel, understanding that the tension the sinner feels when hearing the Word of God is resolved in the grace of God bringing all of us to salvation. For some the judgmental attitudes descended into downright abuse.
Consider the following heartbreaking response: “I was a forced into church three days a week. I would get hit if I did not go. Every time I have tried to join a church I feel like I am being forced to go and then I stop going. I get flashbacks of my youth. And yes that church was full of people that were able to buy the nice clothes, it was all about fashion and if you weren’t in you were out. They also instilled fear in us, to the point when ever we did anything we would fear that God was going to send birds of prey to feast on us.” This kind of abuse from anyone who says they are a Christian or any institution waving the banner of Christ is evil, and should be labeled as such. But sometimes even well meaning gestures can be offensive.
Consider this single-mother’s response: “Every church I have been to places judgment on me right away for being a single mother and treat me as if I am a leper no church has tried to be there for me or my kids they just want to throw money at us at Christmas and get mad cause I don’t need it! We need love, comfort, compassion, people willing to act like we exist outside the church in our daily lives, Jesus command us to love one another and churches just aren’t doing that anymore!”
Sadly, I believe these responses are how many perceive the church and Christians today. We have been called by Christ to be salt and light but sadly we end up becoming vinegar and darkness. We need Jesus to re-engage our thoughts and re-ignite our hearts with the passion and compassion of the gospel.
One thoughtful young man shared a poignant analogy: “A church gathering reminds many of a gathering with the in-laws who live out of state. You marry your spouse because you love her and she/he you; a beautiful relationship. Then you’re told to go to a gathering with the in-laws (out of state) in which you have no daily/weekly relationship. Most of the in-laws are asking questions, and then making judgments in their minds about your answers. They may even begin teaching you a few things about your spouse “to help you out.” You begin to realize that your commonality is your spouse and that’s it. Further, you realize that their relationship with your spouse is obviously not the same as yours, yet you receive all kinds of recommendations or advice on how to “do life” with your spouse; whether it’s family related, work related, vacation related, etc. You leave the in-law’s house and trek back home… wondering what all just happened and why do you now feel sort of estranged from your spouse? This is just something I hear from many (sometimes from myself) that may help. In this story… you are you, the spouse is Jesus and the in-laws are the people in the church.”
There is plenty for us church types to repent of in the context of what we call communities of faith. We should start today by asking God to forgive us for judgmental attitudes and lack of love. May we always speak the truth and always show the love of Christ.