Over the last few weeks in my “Church Dropouts” series, I’ve alerted you to four reasons we’re losing devoted church members; shared some strategies to perhaps help disrupt these patterns; and sounded the alarm on a new category of people who are on the fringes of our churches hoping to be noticed before they actually leave.
My hope and prayer is to raise awareness in the midst of all the church growth plans and new church plants being born. While I’m all for celebrating the people that are coming into the church every Sunday, I also want us, as responsible leaders in the Church, to lament and respond to those who are deciding not to return. We must also acknowledge that those who already left still need a connection to God and to His people.
Throughout this article series, I’ve discovered and heard from some folks around the country, many of them former “traditional” pastors, who have voiced the same questions I’m asking. They have similar reasons for leaving their church positions, and in many cases their livelihoods, to pursue their call differently. They are creating spaces and places for those who still love God but not necessarily the local church, as we know it. I think you’ll be stirred and challenged by their stories:
Daron Earlewine, a former church planter, started Pub Theology in 2009 in Indianapolis, what he calls “1/3 a party, 1/3 charity event and 1/3 church service.”
After six years in church planting, Daron had a “missional freak out” moment when he realized that he did not have any meaningful relationships with people who did not know Jesus. In trying to have a conversation with his unchurched neighbor, he realized it was an “awkward conversation.” When he told his wife about it, she told him bluntly, “That’s because you’re not a real person anymore. …unless you’re talking about church, at church, doing church, or around church people, you don’t know know how to just hang out and be normal.”
That conversation started Daron on a quest. Through prayer, Pub Theology was birthed. Essentially, he and his team are the entertainment at local bars but they get to speak about Jesus and raise money for a worthy cause. As Daron puts it, “we wanted to introduce people to the heart of God before we introduce or re-introduce them to God.” While most patrons expect an ordinary bar night, they instead encounter a time of hearing stories of compassion and see people being generous to a cause.
“Recently, we raised $6,000 for a young teenage girl who was fighting leukemia. We had her and her family share their story. There people are moved heart and soul by compassion, generosity and hope by loving our neighbor. After we share about the cause and get people to hear the stories, I go up and share a four-minute talk that points to Jesus.”
Daron helps people make sense of what they may be feeling after experiencing that atypical bar night by sharing how God created them to be connected to others and to give back hope to the world. As a follow-up, he invites people to come back to Cocktails and Conversation where questions about life, God and everything in between can be asked with people who are also hungry for answers. Pub Theology nights led to Daron being invited to host a three-hour radio show called Radio Theology on one of Indianapolis’ top secular stations. Now known around Indy as the “Pub Pastor” Daron’s ministries attract the unchurched, dechurched and churched out. His rationale for doing these out-of-the-box outreaches is simple: “We believe that we learn to live our lives by doing what Jesus did. He came from Heaven to earth to have conversations with people just like us. He went to parties and hung out in the everyday places of life so that people could get to know Him better.”
This is a paper submitted in my Systemic Theology I class, Summer 2017. I felt the message was important enough to share with a wider audience. Note that I am aware this is not fully developed in "academic" terms but it nevertheless expresses my convictions in the age of Trump. I hope to further develop it in the future. I would for you to share and/or provide feedback.
What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. --Augustine of Hippo
The love professed by Christians, especially Evangelicals has for all intents and purposes been lost in translation. Based on what we hear coming from the White House, the continued debate on health care and immigration, I do not see how a Christian can reconcile continuing to support this administration and say they are filled with Spirit of God and are “loving Christians.”
The 2016 Presidential election with Donald Trump’s victory revealed what many people of color knew was lurking under the surface, racism and social class backlash. The result did not just inform America of its new President, it revealed to America a great division between gender, race and education and a greater divide between White Evangelicals and Evangelicals of color. One of the most hurtful revelations was seeing that many who call themselves “followers of Jesus” and for the most part, (based on what is espoused in churches across America) biblical literalists, did not take the Bible literally when it came to the poor, the immigrant and the disenfranchised.
Since Trump’s inauguration America has simply slipped into social mayhem. Every day the news or social media outlets inform the public on the current administration latest fiasco and of the hate around us. Especially hate for people of color, the immigrant and the Muslim. Being a Puerto Rican who was born and raised in New York city, I grew up in a melting pot where there was tolerance for everything. It was a Sancocho that New Yorkers happily embraced. A Sancocho is a Latin American soup that consists of meat and different root vegetables in a delicious sauce. The dish has variations depending on what Latin American country one comes from but it is always a soup and always embraced as central to Latin American cuisine. This is where I get my Sancocho theology idea from. I believe when it comes to a biblical perspective on caring for the poor, we all may have variations but in the end the Bible is very clear on what was on God's heart and what Jesus made sure he did when he walked this earth. Whether or not a person is a literalist or somewhere in between, the only document used by believers as a compass is the Bible. But what is notably clear is that the voices of the poor and dis-enfranchised continue to be shut out of the discussions where the power brokers are making the decisions that impact their lives. Sancocho theology is simply a bridging of ecclesiology, missiology, social justice, theology of place and the good news of Jesus Christ.
Sancocho in the Latin American community is something people look forward to tasting. In some homes, it is the very act of making it ‘together’ that brings the families closer in Spirit. The Psalms say “taste and see that the Lord is good…” but can brown and black brothers and sister see the good news and for that matter, the Lord of Lords as good when so many of those who profess to know him and speak for him are so hateful, so dismissive of the plight of people who do not have the privileges they were born with simply because of the color of their skin, the family they were born into, the legacy of being on the “right side of the tracks.” Is it possible that there will ever be a time when there is true listening to what the other voices have to say and a real desire to make those on the outside of the theological borders welcomed? Can we theologize together about the current plight of our America and as is so customary to the Sancocho making process, put our unique perspectives in the soup that impacts the soul?
History shows that the [Black] church was pivotal in the civil rights era. My own research has revealed that Latino Pentecostals got involved much later in activism and developing organizations to help people through drug addiction, the HIV/AIDS crisis, mental health issues, teen pregnancy and families with children with disabilities because of their faith and interpretation of scripture. Many Latinos especially Puerto Ricans due to succumbing to a dualistic theology and tradition placed a higher emphasis on the spiritual dimension of human existence at the exclusion of what was happening in the physical world. Yet, in New York City there was more of an awareness perhaps because of the more social conscious churches in the NYC-Metro area. Many of us also grew up knowing that Jesus, our Lord, was also a flipping tables kind of Savior. In seeing Jesus in this way, Latinos who were able to see that they could be meek and they could also have righteous anger at the way things are sometimes found at the ‘temple’.
I find myself now, in South Florida nothing like my New York City, surrounded by churches who seem not to care about the unjust actions of an unqualified and undignified President. In fact, it was many in the White church community who handed him the reigns to the Presidency with what seems like no regard for the what the Bible has to say for the poor, the immigrant, the widow, etc. The bible looks very different when viewed from people on the margins. Leonardo Boff asked “in what sense can the Trinity be called “gospel,” good news, to people, especially to the poor and oppressed?” Boff seemingly understood that the world that Jesus lived in was very much like the Latin American world he lived in, his response to the message of the gospel was to produce a liberation praxis for Christians who believe like he did that “the Trinity has to do with the lives of each of us, our daily experiences, our struggles to follow our conscience, our love and joy, our bearing the sufferings of the world and the tragedies of human existence; it also has to do with the struggle against social injustice, with efforts at building a more human form of society, with the sacrifices and martyrdoms that these endeavors so often bring.” This is a radical challenge to the established order then and now and it is a compelling vision for a new kind of humanity that Christians can help create for a world that does not see good in our gospel especially in light of the people who claim to represent the “pure” gospel and their quest to reclaim American and make it “great again.” The question that was asked during the campaign and is still being asked today is “great for who?” It certainly seems that yet again, Evangelicals especially in the West, have found a way to keep people at the margins.
Many evangelicals of color feel they no longer have a place amongst traditional Evangelical denominations as 81% of white evangelicals voted against the values dear to them. I, along with many of them, do not consider ourselves on the left but we most certainly do not see ourselves on the right either. It is our understanding of Scripture, our Sancocho theology that has us wandering… but as the great philosopher J.R.R. Tolkien said, “not all those who wander are lost.” Theology matters because people were already leaving the church, after the presidential election more left and that is expected to continue. Some have left because of the pastor’s position on politics and some have left because the conversation continues to be one-sided as it has always been in the world of theological discourse. It has always been a sign of arrogance to believe that Western or European Voices were superior to Non-Western voices. As William Dryness himself discovered, you do not know that you do not know until you find yourself in unchartered territory trying to affix your usual thinking to an unusual circumstance. It was in that place in Manila that he “began a crash course of theological reflection.”
Perhaps this Trump era is the unusual circumstance and the rallying cries of the ones that Dario Lopez Rodriguez said Jesus had a special love for, “…the poor and the marginalized, including the fragile, those on the periphery, the needy and the destitute, the ragged of the world, and the “nobodies” that predominant society has condemned to social ostracism and the basement of history” is the crash course alert for all the Evangelicals who believe they have this good news gospel interpreted 100 percent correctly. Class is in session but they have chosen to be absent. They have chosen to ignore what they can learn from people with stories they have never had to live.
What comes to mind is the quote shared by Dr. Timothy Tennet in the Week 8 class forum video who quoted John Abiti (a pioneer of African Theology): “we have eaten theology with you, we have drunk theology with you, we have dreamed theology with you. But it has all been one-sided. It has been in one sense your theology. We know you theologically but the question is do you know us theologically? Would you like to know us theologically?” Unfortunately, the answer in many spheres of the Western world continues to be no.
Rodriquez shared that “Luke develops a theology of poverty influenced by social, political, and economic factors present in his specific context.” Faith has always driven black and more recently brown people of faith to rise up and speak for those who have no voice and speak out against injustices, often times carried out by the very government that is supposed to watch out for all citizens. We have numerous examples in Scripture as Rodriquez points out with Lucan theology being one of them, on how Jesus always stood for the poor against the religious elite and the powerful government. A true good news gospel is one that is not afraid to engage in politics if it is to stand up and care for the poor. There is no other way to see it. As we also saw from various videos of churches during class forum discussions, those who felt filled by the Holy Spirit, those who prayed, all were led to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Their theology was “do as Jesus did”. Jesus was the model. A Sancocho theology is needed that recognizes all the non-western voices that bring the meat to the soup and understand “sticky rice”, “rainy season, and “leaky roof” with the Western voices that are more privileged and have the learning opportunities to know and speak of “incarnation” or “atonement” but cannot speak the language of poverty or ostracism.
The political figures and religious elite that have wrapped evangelicalism around like a scarf have done irreparable harm to the name of Jesus and the people who have understood the liberating mission of Jesus and fight to carry on that mission in the era of a Trump Presidency.
 Amanda Marcotte, “New Election Analysis: Yes, it really was blatant racism that gave us President Donald Trump,” Salon, April 19, 2017, accessed May 30, 2017, https://www.google.com/search?q=was+there+prejudice+lurking+before+trump+election&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8
 Alec Tyson, “Behind Trump’s Victory: Divisions by race, gender, education,” Pew Research Center, November 9, 2016, accessed May 30, 2017, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/behind-trumps-victory-divisions-by-race-gender-education/
 Deborah Jian Lee, “Betrayed at the Pools, Evangelicals of Color at a Crossroads”, USC Annenberg, April 27, 2017, accessed May 30, 2017, http://religiondispatches.org/betrayed-at-the-polls-evangelicals-of-color-at-a-crossroads/
 Psalm 34:8. NIV.
 Elizabeth Rios, “The Ladies Are Warriors”: Latina Pentecostalism and Faith-Based Activism in New York City,” in Latino Religions and Civic Activism in the United States, edited by Gaston Espinosa, Virgilio Elizondo and Jessie Miranda, 197-217. (New York: Oxford University Press), 2005.
 Reference to Matthew 21:12.
 Alister E. McGrath, Ed. The Christian Theology Reader, 4th Edition, (United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 196.
 Ibid. 197.
 Elizabeth Rios, “Church Dropouts: Four Reasons Why We’re Losing Devoted Churchgoers,” Influence Magazine, May 11, 2017, accessed May 31, 2017 https://influencemagazine.com/practice/church-dropouts
 William A. Dryness and Oscar Garcia-Johnson, Theology Without Borders: An Introduction to Global Conversations, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 2015), 25.
 Dario Lopez Rodriguez, The Liberating Mission of Jesus: The Message of the Gospel of Luke, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2012), 2.
 Timothy Tennent. “Theological Education in the Context of World Christianity.” Lausanne movement. (May 30, 2012). Accessed June 21, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Blh399dDtpU.
 Dario Lopez Rodriguez, The Liberating Mission of Jesus: The Message of the Gospel of Luke, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2012), 3.
 Kosuke Koyama as quoted in William A. Dryness and Oscar Garcia-Johnson, Theology Without Borders: An Introduction to Global Conversations, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 2015), 25.
She did what she could.
She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Mark 14:8
Today was not the day I expected. I cried almost all day. It started out this morning over pancakes. As I listened to worship making pancakes I was dancing and jubilant but when I sat down, right there over my pancakes the tears started to flow. Before I could even compose myself so my husband wouldn't see my tears, I started to cry even more. There over my pancakes I just felt a strong urge to pray for myself. There are a few things that are going on in my life that I just need God to intervene. As I was praying, the thought came of some prayers not being answered "yet", then I recalled the testimony of my sister-in-love Enid when she said her 2017 Mother's Day message that she had found a letter her mother wrote, a list of things she was asking God for from a few years back. What she mentioned was that by the time she passed away in 2016, many of those prayers were not answered. Yet 'til her dying day she was still believing and still praising God. So I prayed, Lord let me have that Spirit. Let me not be bitter, let me continue to believe that YOU CAN as I wait to see if YOU WILL.
Later on, as I was cleaning my office. I felt the urge to pray for my children. I was asking myself did I do enough as a mom? I have two very different boys, Samuel going to college in the Fall and my special angel, Daniel Jeremiah (DJ) who has a number of issues and will be at home with me until God chooses to take him home. I felt inadequate. I felt I should have done something different with them (not that I have a clue what that would have looked like). I felt the weight of the things I am currently facing that made me cry this morning with the weight of motherhood and not being enough. At the moment, the Holy Spirit reminded me of this verse I came across last week in Mark 14:8 and there were five words that just hit me, "SHE DID WHAT SHE COULD!" So I prayed, "Holy Spirit help me not judge myself too harshly. Let me not compare what I think other mothers are doing better than me. I did what I could yes. Take all that I have given to my children and nurture those seeds in them so they can be a blessing to all those they encounter. Yes even DJ Lord." I then continued to clean my office and attempted to do some school work (which I am still avoiding by writing this!).
During a little break from schoolwork, I started to look over the notes from my day at the Propel Lead event with Christiane Caine. The question that came into my mind was the question she asked the audience. "Are you doing everything God wants you to do? She said at her age (50) she has less time going forward then what she had in the past. I'm 52 so I am in the same situation. In Practicing a Rule of Five that John Maxwell advocates to think deeply or do "evaluative reflection", I believe I have always done what I believe God wanted me to do. But some of those things didn't work out the way I had hoped. It made me question everything. It made me shut down. It made me not trust. But in my reflection, those words popped up again my spirit. Yes you did what you thought He wanted and you did what you could. I cried again. Feeling like the Holy Spirit comforted me.
Just a few minutes ago, I felt a strong urge to pray for my cohort. All of us are busy people and I know I have been feeling the weight of school and finances and LIFE and then I felt like the Holy Spirit said, pray for them right here (in our FB Forum). Oh gosh really? But as I started to write, I felt the burdens. My tears flowed. I felt the Holy Spirit say, they are also doing all they can. But everyone needs divine intervention once in a while.
So friends, I am not sure what you are going through right now. But God honors people who "do all they could." He knows what you can do and He knows if you are doing it. He doesn't expect any more than what you could give him. Our seasons in life change, sometimes we can do more. And sometimes, just showing up is doing all we could. Don't feel less than, inadequate, like a failure or any of the things that make you feel like you want to run and hide. You did all you could. That's enough for God and that should be enough for us.
Perhaps I'll have that on my tombstone. My mother in love has "She Never Lost Her Praise." I think mine will say "She Did All She Could."
Part 1 of this blog post series can be found here.
As a second time doctoral student, a Doctor of Ministry student this time, I obviously care about the future of the church. What comes to mind is something that Bill Hybels said closing out one of his great annual leadership summits. He said:
Wow. Right!? Because I prayed that prayer long ago, I committed my life to work to build His church. Whatever that looks like. While I have had a few detours and disappointments on the adventure to do that, I have no less commitment to God and His church. But in praying for insight and reading some things in school, the dramatic changes happening in society and their impact on the church has me wondering who is paying attention.
Church planting is all the buzz now and that's great. But I think some planters and even some traditional pastors who already have what is deemed a "successful church" should consider the changes that are impacting churches across the U.S. and put their minds together on how they can prevent more people from being "DONE" with church. The reality is, that many are already "done" and still going because of family habit, socializing with friends, etc. Don't kid yourself. People on the fringes exist in your dope church. Thus, I think the changes I mention should be taken into account in all decision making for the church.
Here are the next two changes that are impacting the church right now. :
#3 People's Opinion of Relevance has Changed
Many people feel the church has lost its “it” factor, it’s relevance in the eyes of the world. This has come about because people (both on the fringes and involved hard core volunteers) believe that the church cares more about themselves (as in their own survival) then the daily living of people who make up the church body or the community where they find themselves. People are tired of being asked for money but not seeing more community outreach. People are tired of seeing "missions" offering going across the seas but not to their own backyard. People are tired of seeing the Pastor with the "more than they need home" and the third luxury car in the drive way and no increase in the money going into community engagement.
In addition, many people feel that the church simply is not as important to their daily lives as it once was. They find church to be more time consuming and more drama filled by church goers interested in preserving a political stand than admitting that the gospel has many sides and it is neither a republican or democratic. It’s important to note that although many feel the church has lost its relevance, they are still very much hungry for spiritual things. People leave the church because it is no longer relevant.
#4 People's Hunger and Understanding of/for God and Community has Changed
Many are leaving the church is that people are not impressed with the glitz. They want more of the God that is preached on an experiential level. Jacobson writes:
Sure, we now have vast menus of amazing church activities, entertaining events, targeted ministries, well-crafted sermons, flashy presentations, and professional pastors with impressive seminary degrees. But when an unbeliever walks into a church, is he hoping to witness spectacular music and dazzling productions and be won over by compelling arguments or is he looking for real evidence of the living God? Shame on us if all we have are stories about the miraculous things God did for previous generations of believers, yet nothing but lame excuses for why he seems semi-retired today. Who could blame an unbeliever for turning around and walking away unconvinced? 
Imagine that! People can’t find God in church! Church should be a place where people driven by the love of God, embrace the outcast, serve the widows and orphans, love the unlovable, and gives refuge to the immigrant. It should be a place where power is rejected, gender and race is irrelevant, and where the most coveted position is the position of servant. Yet more and more people feel they see and experience the exact opposite as they get “more involved” in the life of the church.
In addition, they want more relationship with the pastor and with others who are also seeking more of God. So many people are tired of doing life on their own, tired of plastic relationships, and are looking for deep, loyal, and authentic communal relationships. This should be a central goal of churches– building community. But not the kind that most want to force together in a “life group.” Christianity was never meant to be lived out in the context of isolation, but rather in the context of community. When people can’t find community, can’t plug-in or access meaningful relationships, they split in hopes they’ll find it somewhere else. When a church learns to do community well, it is a life-giving experience. When churches fail to build community, church just becomes another item on the to-do list and eventually one realizes they may not be alone but they are lonely.
The feeling of being excluded, by definition, creates an intense loneliness. Being one of the only people living raw and authentically in a quest for community, is a lonely feeling. Being the one person who can’t, in good conscience, sign onto the same statement of faith that the group has or back a particular presidential candidate, is a lonely feeling. Watching cliques form as an outsider, and watching people who rise to esteemed positions by way of church politics, is a lonely feeling. People leave church because they don’t see God but do feel lonely.
It is important to notice something before some of you judge 'these people.' These people have not given up on God, they have simply given up on the institutional expression of church. Many of the people interviewed for much of the research I have read share that “they didn’t stop doing things to advance what they believed to be the work of God; they stopped doing things to advance the work of the church. They’ve opted for relationship over structure, doing over dogma and creating with rather than creating for.”
Paying attention to these changes that are impacting churches and with perhaps a renewed heart for discipling and mentoring, the traditional church still has a way to be preventive against this current. As Packard so eloquently stated, “The question is not whether the church in America will exist in 25 years. The question is entirely about what form it will take.” Pastors, planters, leaders...what are you prepared to do? Do you even care to do anything?
Richard Jacobson, Unchurching: Christianity Without Churchianity, (Unchurching Books, 2016), Kindle. 1938-1947.
 Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope, Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith. (Colorado: Group Publishing, 2015), Kindle. 411-412.
 Ibid. 437.
This is part one of a two part series on Changes Impacting the Church.
It’s time to wake up and see the tidal wave washing away the foundation of the churches in America. The numbers are in—and they don’t look good. From across Christendom the reports are the same: A mass exodus is underway. Nationwide polls and denominational reports are showing that people both adults and the next generation are calling it quits on the traditional church. And it’s not just happening on the nominal fringe; it’s happening at the core of the faith.
This is not just a grim prediction. This is not a scare tactic. It’s a reality—which is already happening . . . just like it did in England; it’s happening here in North America. Now. Like the black plagues that nearly wiped out the general population of Europe, a spiritual black plague has almost killed the next generation of European believers. A few churches are surviving. Even fewer are thriving. The vast majority are slowly dying. It’s a spiritual epidemic, really. A wave of spiritual decay and death has almost entirely stripped a continent of its godly heritage, and now the same disease is infecting North America.
Many people saw it coming but didn’t want to admit it. After all, our churches looked healthy on the surface. We saw bubbling Sunday schools, dynamic youth ministries, bigger and bigger building projects to accommodate what looked like growth. But a vacuum was forming: there were people who had been living on the fringes who no longer showed up for the Sunday worship service or group bible studies, or that mid-week service. For the most part, there was an increasing group of people who sent AWOL. Recent and irrefutable statistics are forcing those of us who work and care about the church to face the truth.
Some say that people are leaving because they have lost their faith or no longer believe in God. Jacobson disagrees, “To reject the institutional churches is not the same as rejecting God or rejecting the Christian faith … Some people may have to reject the churches to find Christ and vitality … And God is surely present outside the churches— often more present without than within.”
Slowly but certainly the church of the future is headed toward a slow fade and will continue to do so—unless we come to better understand what is happening and implement a clear plan to circumvent it.
While there is not enough research, there is some and they have been able to show us the trends; more and more are finding out about them—but the vital question concerns what is the root problem of why this is happening. We need to know why if we are going to formulate possible solutions.
My hope is to be part of the solution that addresses this situation at some level through the establishment of a non-traditional faith community called The Passion Center whose aim is to specifically cater to this group of people both young adults and adults who have decided that they are “done” with church and have said their goodbyes. Maybe forever but most certainly for now.
While data can help those of us attempting to look into this matter and provide some type of safe place for those on the fringes, there is no secret sauce or magic bullet that will help every church in every environment successfully reach out to the unchurched. What might work for one church in California may fall flat in a church in New York City or Florida. This is important because “if churches hope to grow their attendance numbers by discipling new believers, they must improve their ability to attract those who are intentionally avoiding a connection with a church.”
There are at least five main themes I've noticed in my research that stand out that should be taken into consideration not only by those of us who seek to reach out to this population but by those who are planters or pastors who seek to prevent more people leaving because of something they could have been addressing. We live in a complex and changing culture. Ministry as usual will not work. Over the next few days I'll be posting a few reasons why. Here are the first two:
#1 Our World Has Changed
It is important to note that depending on the age of the pastor, minister or leader attempting to reach out to the unchurched (those who are churchless for a reason), what the may have tried before may not work in today’s culture. This is because our culture has changed. Barna reports that “more than one-third of America’s adults are essentially secular in belief and practice. If nothing else, this helps explain why America has experienced a surge in unchurched people — and presages a continuing rise in this population.” Secularization in America has been the culprit.
Everything has also gone digital in our culture. Church leaders who remain unaware of how to navigate this digital world are already left behind. Barna states:
In the last two decades, three network television stations have morphed into hundreds of digital channels. A handful of reading formats — newspapers, books, magazines — have given birth to new media (e-readers, websites) and social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter). With DVRs, digital season passes, massive multiplayer online gaming, and tablet computers, consumers — both churchless and churched alike — have access to more content and information than anyone could hope to absorb and assimilate. So much demands our attention that, as a culture, we are experiencing an epidemic of distraction. Virtually every facet of our lives receives less concentrated attention than it did two decades ago.
Pastors often wonder why people who say they love the church find it hard to come to the events that the church that they “love” sponsors, the change to all things digital is the usually at the forefront of reasons. The study conducted by Barna in 2014 showed that:
People are more likely than ever to feel they are too busy. They have more commitments, more activities (online and off) that chew up valuable time. When you combine increasing indifference toward church and a culture of short attention spans, you get a lot of people who think they don’t have time for church. You also end up with less frequent face time to reach the churchless and form the worldviews of the churched.
This digital shift points to another issue that contributes to the root of reasons of why many are unchurched, especially among young adults. They feel that they have a right to contribute their voice, idea, opinion because technology affords them the opportunity to do so. With Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, the once very public and guarded gatekeeper to the table where decisions are made, where one hears the data on why they should decide to go one way versus another has in a sense become extinct. People now have a way to get how they feel added to the digital mix of voices in the world.
This change has also given ministry leaders digital connectedness is access to people, ideas, and information from all over the world. Now because of this easy access to technology people can experiences church services, mission trips, conferences and seminars without even being physically present. Although, one would think that all this assess and connectedness would help reach unchurched people, data shows otherwise. This is, in large part, because young unchurched adults don’t search for much spiritual content, “just 6 percent report going online to search for faith-related in a typical week.” People leave the church because the church has not changed with the times.
#2 Our Trust of the Church and Clergy has Changed
It seems that even the very dedicated to the cause of the Christ have lost their trust of Christians and the churches they belong to. In no small part to the evangelical alignment with the election of Trump. People everywhere were in shock that so many evangelicals overlooked character, past track record with race, the poor and the like to stand with a man who promised he would do away with abortion. Again, the tunnel vision of single issue voters won out. But this time, it has caused according to a quote attributed to Dan Rather, the respected news anchor, the rise of the worst administration in history to be in power. It wasn’t always that way. Parkard states:
It was just a generation or so ago that people expressed high levels of trust in religious leaders, and the church had a reputation as a force for good. Religious institutions in this country had been prominently involved in many of the human rights struggles from women’s suffrage in the 19th century to the civil rights movement in the middle of the 20th century. Local and national religious groups have continually responded admirably to natural disasters and community tragedies. But people trusted religious institutions and leaders not just because they responded to their community needs in times of crisis, but because religious institutions were intimately and continually involved in their local communities. Religious leaders were involved in doing things, not simply proclaiming things.
This is not something that happened overnight. The trust of church and clergy was eroding for years. Packard continues:
Since 1977 the Gallup organization has regularly asked Americans to rate the honesty and ethical standards of many professions in the United States. In 2013 the clergy received its lowest score ever. The number of people who believe clergy has very high or high levels of honesty and ethical standards fell below 50 percent for the first time. But this was no blip on the radar screen. After peaking at a high of 67 percent in 1985, the decline has been a pretty steady march downward 
This is huge information because in the past, if one was to introduce themselves as a pastor, they would be warmly greeted and greatly respected. This was great because starting out the pastor had credibility on reserve and when they met people in the street and invited them to church or to a church-sponsored event, people would at least consider it. In today’s world, for more than 50% of people, a pastor starts off with zero credibility and must earn the trust of the unchurched. Thus before they can even get an audience with these people to talk about Jesus, give an invite or ask them out for coffee, they have to work daily to earn their trust first.
In addition, what contributed to the loss of trust was the feeling that churches only cared about numbers, not people. Jacobson reminds readers that “M. Scott Peck noted in 1987 that “the plain reality is that by and large the Church has not been in the community game; it has been in the numbers game.” People leave the church because they don’t trust it anymore.
Come back tomorrow to read about a few more changes that are impacting the church! Let me know your thoughts here. Please feel free to share on social media. Let's get to talking and to working!
 Richard Jacobson, Unchurching: Christianity Without Churchianity, (Unchurching Books, 2016), Kindle. 73-75.
 George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Illinois: Tyndale Momentum, 2014), Kindle. 146.
 Ibid. 202-204.
 George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Illinois: Tyndale Momentum, 2014), Kindle. 249-254.
 Ibid. 254-257.
 George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Illinois: Tyndale Momentum, 2014), Kindle. 269.
 Jessica Chasmar, “Dan Rather says Donald Trump off to ‘worst start’ of any president in history” in The Washington Times, March 27, 2017, accessed April 2, 2017, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/mar/27/dan-rather-says-donald-trump-off-to-worst-start-of/
 Jose Packard and Ashleigh Hope, Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith. (Colorado: Group Publishing, 2015), Kindle. 236-241.
 Ibid. 243-245.
 Richard Jacobson, Unchurching: Christianity Without Churchianity, (Unchurching Books, 2016), Kindle. 78-79.
In three days, I enter my birthday month. There are two times in the year that I usually get very reflective. My birthday month and the end of the year. Today, as I sat down to finish some writing for one of my courses in my D. Min. journey, I was distracted. The distraction came from a verse I read in today's devotional. The verse was Genesis 12:1-3
Now the Lord had said to Abram, "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.
So, for a little context, before I sat down to do my "work", I was drinking my coffee thinking of a disappointment I had in trusting an organization that was supposed to help me and it turned out that they were not who they advertised themselves to be. At my age, I had already determined from life lessons that I would NOT stay in toxic environments. I would NOT do things that do not bring me joy. I would NOT hide the person I am just because some people are uncomfortable with women asking questions. Yet, this determination made me 'get out' of the affiliation but it essentially killed what my husband and I thought was the help we needed to get a dream off the ground.
I felt defeated. I felt sad. I felt angry. I felt let down. I felt alot of the things I have felt in that particular journey. But after a few weeks and now a few months, I feel great. I feel liberated. I feel excited. I feel energized for God's next thing for us. I don't even feel that experience was a waste because I learned a few things. And I felt the Holy Spirit softly speak to my heart and say, "all experiences where you are led to leave your comfort, to leave the box you have been confined to either by your own doing or others, is a step toward pursuing purpose." Ugh, I thought to myself. Can we get there without THAT!? But no, unfortunately, we can't.
The religious community has somehow brainwashed many to think that if God is with you, you won't have setbacks. But that is exactly how God gets you "out of the box" you are in! You can't have greatness without separation. In fact, greatness itself means to be separated from the norm. It means you stand out from the crowd. Your purpose in life is what makes you great (in God's eyes not necessarily in people's) but in order to accomplish that greatness you must be willing to accept separation of the things you thought were working for you. Sometimes you have to "get out" to "go up!"
The story of Abram reminded me of that today. The greatest threat to your future, my future is getting boxed in, is getting too comfortable, is the familiar. The familiar is the often subconscious thought that the predictable is the preferred path, what is expected of you is the better route and that the recognizable (in your church, your industry, your religion) is the best option. But uh, not always the case.
When God engaged Abram with the instructions for "his journey," the first thing He tells him to do is GET OUT. Usually those words do not instill confidence, motivation or inspiration from us do they? They usually cause fear. What will people think? What happens then? Can I make it on my own? Etc. But here is the thing, when God purposes to move you to whatever is coming next for you, it always requires an exodus from a former place of comfort and acceptability from the masses. Why does God do that? Because He knew Abram then, and us now, will never step into what He has for us without first stepping out of our complacency.
The beginning of promotion and elevation will sometimes look like failure and misfortune, but God is always up to something good in our lives. We have to believe that first before it can manifest in our life. We have to leave the familiar behind folks. If we dig in a little deeper, we see that he told him to get out of COUNTRY, FAMILY, FATHER'S HOUSE. Our country can be our environment, culture, subculture, our customs. Our family encompasses relatives, the broader community (church, work, etc), and those who surround ourselves with most. Our father's house could be the assumed or predetermined expectations. All these things shape our identity. But at some point you have to leave this place of shaping to be shaped by God according to His purposes for your life.
Leaving the familiar is leaving the place that is presently shaping you and stepping into a new realm with a plethora of new experiences God uses to reshape you for what you were born to do and contribute to this world we live in. Remember, in order to realize purpose you must become a "you" that you haven't met yet, and you can only do that when you leave the familiar. When you get out of the box others (or even you) created for yourself.
So today, I challenge you to GET OUT. A new you is waiting. In order to fulfill your purpose in life, you have to dwell in environments that unlock your potential and releases the creativity that God has placed inside of you. I can't wait to see the land that God will show me (as He told Abram). But I know it is in that place, I will discover Liz 3.0. The Liz that will be a blessing to others. I wish the same for you.
Something is happening in the life of the traditional church and it does not look good. Documentaries, books and studies have unveiled that there have been major changes in the pattern of church attendance in the last few years. The Gallup Organization reported, “Only 44 percent of Americans have confidence in the church or organized religion.” A Barna study showed that there has been a rise of churchlessness in America from 30% in the 1990s to 33% in the 2000s to 43% in 2014 with 33% of once active church goers no longer going.
Throughout the country and it is assumed even more so after the election of the 45th President, church people and church attendance have become unpopular and membership has been rapidly decreasing. What is even more interesting is that the trend is holding true no matter the location, denomination, worship style of a particular church, age groups or race. A 2014 Pew Study revealed that:
The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.
The data confirms what many involved in ministry for years have been seeing if they are paying attention. The moral, social and spiritual lives of people in the United States is charging. Due to this change, church plants and smaller churches are struggling more than ever to even reach growth that can make them self-sustainable. Even mega-churches are losing their popularity because the constant need for money to maintain property and personnel for Sunday “performances” as they are viewed by many of those leaving the church is being questioned more and challenged outright with less giving. People are asking themselves what is the real purpose of the church? Pastors are asking themselves how can I revitalize the church? Observers who care about the future of the church are asking why are people leaving the church and can anything be done about it?
Certainly, there is a crisis being faced by the American church and a course of action needs to be taken. Not necessarily because the survival of the church as we know it is in danger (although it is) with church closings, pastoral firings and resignations, reduced budgets due to less money in the coffers but to try to be preventive instead of reactive. In researching this dilemma, the questions that arise, “What action needs to be taken so people don’t feel the need to leave their spiritual community?” and “How can a faith community address the concerns of those who already left?” The attempt to answer these questions can help churches of any structure think through what they can do and perhaps provide a model that will help people come back to the church, never leave the church, give church a try for the first time. Or better yet, find a way to introduce people to God without having them have to “do” traditional church at all or at first.
Churchlessness in America is happening at a fast pace. What are the causes? The few studies done thus far suggest that people are leaving because they don't see the church "being" the hands and feet of Jesus on a regular consistent basis yet they are always asking for money. Others say that they have formed little to no relationships in the church and if they did, they ended up being very badly hurt either by leadership, the pastor or other members. Finally, some have left because they said in order to keep their faith, they needed to leave the church.
Some pastoral leaders have their hands full with the ones that show up to their church and are not even paying attention to the ones on the fringes. In a very real way, the millions that have already left the church feel that they much rather BE the church and form non-traditional faith communities than go through the motions of church as usual and not feel connected to God, to people or to their communities. Stay tuned to what I find out as I will post here for those who care to have these populations on their radar.
 Bruce Nolan, “Gallup reports new low in religious confidence,” Religion News Service, July 16, 2012, accessed March 10, 2017, http://religionnews.com/2012/07/16/gallup-reports-new-low-in-religious-confidence/
 George Barna and David Kinnaman, Ed. Churchless: Understanding Today's Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Illinois: Tyndale Momentum. 2014), Kindle. 48.
 Pew Research Center, “2014 Religious Landscape Study,” June 4-September 30, 2014, accessed March 10, 2017, http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/
There are many things that are good for the soul. I am an advocate for doing what makes your soul come alive. We might agree that traveling, spending time with friends, an art class, etc are good soul igniters but I want to add faith to the mix.
There have been many articles written in the past about faith and its correlation in making people better humans. Some call it the "science of belief". There is something that clicks in our souls when we have faith in something and many times (not all) it helps people do things they never would have attempted to do without said faith. Many times, it helps people have a better disposition in life because they have faith that what they see is not all there is to life.
I remember years ago, after the birth of my second son and the emotions my husband and I had about the entire ordeal of a premature birth (26 weeks), the subsequent operations (29 in total) and the hospital mishap that eventually would make my baby unable to live a normal life. We were both mad at God for a time. After all, we thought, if this is how you treat those who serve you, what's the benefit in that! One day, my husband had a conversation with a Rabbi who was also a patient of his and he asked my husband after a conversation they had, "how would you feel if you didn't believe in God?" My husband responded, "I wouldn't like it" to which the Rabbi said, "then continue to believe!"
We have both continued to believe and it was most certainly good for our souls. Not simply because it "felt good" to believe in a higher power but because it helped us make decisions and behave in certain ways that have proved to be very good for us and our family. In most cases, when you practice faith, you change and become a better person, you're joyful and thus, your soul is content.
When you practice faith, you stretch more in all areas.
When you practice faith, you work at reconciling relationships.
When you practice faith, you believe for the impossible and actually attempt it.
When you practice faith, you allow God to work in you so He can work through you.
When you practice faith, you become a more compassionate person.
When you practice faith, you are more forgiving.
When you practice faith, you try to make a difference in the world.
Granted, there are exceptions to the rule and not all people change for the better, if at all. I get that. But for the most part, having faith is good for the soul. So I simply suggest, you do all the things that make your soul come alive and if you haven't given faith in God a try, hook up with a faith-filled person and ask them, "tell me about your faith and your God!" I promise you, it will be good for your soul.
It seems a lot of people are done and they are done with church. Millions in fact. More to be added after the 2016 election. Many people discussed on social media how the message sent by the church was the final straw. Now knowing how evangelicals (81% of white ones at that) felt, those at the fringes of church, either on the outside or the inside, were going to finally say goodbye to the church. They are done!
As a second time doctoral student, this time going for my Doctor of Ministry and thinking of research for a dissertation, I became very interested in who these people were so much so that I walked away from a traditional church plant model (not the only reason though) and transitioned into The Passion Center as a non-traditional faith community that would minister to these folks and to document my journey on this road. Essentially, church done different.
Don't know who or what "the dones" are? Perhaps you've missed some of the buzz on them.Some articles can be found here, here and here. There is even a Facebook group for "dones" here. In doing my own research, I actually didn't find many dissertations on the subject. However, aside of George Barna's, Revolution book, the only other book I've found "so far" that studies this population of people specifically is the 2015 study by sociologists Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope. The book is entitled: “Church Refugees” where they share how they interviewed over one hundred of what some are calling “the dones”. These “dones” are folks who have left institutional churches searching for much more. Some of the findings were surprising as Packard documents that these folks were some of the most committed people in their churches. Many were in leadership, ministry, and very active in the overall functions and activities of the churches they attended.
But what is it that they (the dones) are looking for? Well, according to Packard’s research one of the features that they are not finding in their organized churches is authentic community. Packard states, “Perhaps more than anything else, what people want out of a church is a community of people who are experiencing God together.” These church refugees are done with church. But they are looking for more. More community and what it means to love one another and the world. But they are also looking for engagement. That is, they want to be engaged in ministry to one another and to the world. They are tired of sitting in the pews, serving on committees, and all of the red tape and bureaucracy that go along with “ministry” in the institutional church. They want to serve and minister but not with all the garbage attached to it. I know many people who are amazing leaders and were once very involved with the church, now just hoping they can connect with just a few people for community. Due to in many cases, what has been a "bad experience" or even "burn out" they have chosen to go to mega churches to "lay low" but still eagerly hope for community. Many times, even after their own personal attempts numerous times, they simply can't find it. Some have given up and now find no reason to keep going. Community matters to keep people engaged. Without it, it may be only a matter of time before people in the pews are also done.
Packard estimates that over 32 million American Christians have left their institutional churches in the last 10 years or so. Again, it’s important that we realize that the majority of these people are not leaving because they are falling away from Christ. Rather, it’s because they want more of Him and are finding that the institutional church system is a hindrance rather than a help in them attaining that goal. The other day I meant with a nice lady I knew when I was pastoring at a local church who mentioned to me she's about done. Three things stood out to me. One was her feelings that she didn't feel she belonged anymore (since most around her were extreme right wing conservatives and she is more of a moderate). Secondly, the church was not doing anything to encourage and promote community outside of Sunday service and third was that the church was not doing anything to show they cared about their community.
I really think this information should be utilized by "traditional" church pastors who care about this population and also want to make sure they are addressing the needs of those in their pews who are almost out the door. It is also great information for people who are courageous enough to try a new model. Who are willing to do church differently to become a safe place for people who have just had enough of church as usual.
I don't think anyone should dismiss this as just some kind of movement or trend. It is really a revolution. Something is now happening that is truly completely turning over everything regarding the traditional church system. People are leaving and doing something else. The question for those of us who care about people finding God, growing in faith and serving and loving their world is, what are you prepared to do? Do you even care to do anything?
I am going to be sharing more research on this blog. I am also going to be hosting various groups to listen to "dones" in my area and NYC. Let me know if you are interested specifically in this topic or being invited to a discussion if you are or know of someone in this category by sending me an email here.
I am hoping my research will help pastors think of alternative ways to reach out to this population and I am hoping people will rise up to pastor this population by forming non-traditional faith communities.
Who’s really there for you? Not just someone to “like” your status update or follow you on Instagram … but to like you? To love you? Right now, if you got bad news … if you just broke up … if you lost your job … if you were hungry? Where would you turn? Who would you call if you were crying? Who would listen—and love you? No matter what? Even if you’ve done something bad, or if someone did something bad to you?
In the last three years, I have noticed that while anyone of us can accumulate friends and followers on social media, friends that are there for you when you need them, support you when you are trying to build something, pray for you when you are going through a trial, are few and far between. It has been a wake up call but I think that was a good thing. Why? Because I learned two things. 1) The most unlikely people will show you they care and 2) which is the most important, God really cares.
He has loved you since before you were born? He loved enough to die for you? The same God who created the mountains and the oceans created you. Knows you. Loves you. And He’s there for you. He wants to be your friend.
I know sometimes I have felt alone. But that is normal, really. At some point all Christians feel alone or begin to doubt that God is a loving God. But here’s what you need to know: God’s attitude toward you is love.
The Bible explicitly tells us that God loves and cares about you deeply. And even if your emotional connection with Him isn’t always there, God is still near.
One of the most touching verses in Scripture that perfectly captures this truth of God’s heart toward us is found in Zephaniah, which states: “The Lord your God is with you. He’s mighty to deliver. He takes great delight in you. He will quiet you with His love. He rejoices over you with singing.” (3:17)
So here is the game-changer: God’s promise is that if we draw near to God then He will draw near to us (James 4:8). But how do you do this?
You can draw near to God when you open His word. You can begin anywhere in the Bible, but if you’re feeling particularly dry spiritually, one of the most helpful places to start is in the Psalms. Then, once you have your Bible open, pray a prayer that goes something like: “God, I’m taking a step toward you. Please speak to me.”
The second part of this game-changer is to find a friend, someone who is a godly person and ask them to hang out with you, even if it’s just for an hour. You might suggest grabbing a cup of coffee together. Share your hearts and pray together. Then, watch God show up.
Who cares? God does. In this I believe.