Welcome to the post-religious age—where the once clean-cut ideas about faith and Christianity are breaking down. Suddenly, things don’t seem as simple as whether someone is churched or unchurched. Christian or not. In or out. The very language our culture uses has shifted to accommodate this new landscape. There are new disclaimers and perceptions when it comes to matters of the soul: Those who self-describe as “spiritual, but not religious”—individuals who like to associate with what they perceive as the positive elements of spirituality but not the negative associations of organized religion…All these words and phrases describe a culture that is edging away from conventional Christianity as though secularization is the new normal. The culture seems to be saying, “Christianity? Been there, done that. Church? What’s the point?”
The above quote is from the book Sacred Roots: Why the Church Still Matters, by Jon Tyson, as part of the FRAMES series produced by the Barna Group last year. Some of the research behind this particular FRAME is especially interesting.
For those who say church involvement is very important, the top reasons given for attending church are to be closer to God (44%) and to learn about God (27%). Those who find church less or not important give these as their top two reasons: they find God elsewhere (39%); and church is not personally relevant (35%).
When those who attend church were asked to name their top three reasons for sticking with that church, the top two responses were “I enjoy the preaching or teaching” (39%) and “I agree with the teachings of that church” (38%). When asked, “What would make you leave your church?” the overwhelming top response was “Disagree with teachings or beliefs” (63%).
I believe there are some obvious concerns from these results, including the selfish and individualistic nature of some of these determining factors, as well as the need for the church to fulfill Paul’s call in 1 Cor. 9 and 2 Cor. 5 and be ambassadors of Christ who seek to use every possible means to reach others. People should be able to “find God” and become “closer to God” through the worship assemblies as well as the Bible study, service and fellowship opportunities of the church. If they are not, we need to evaluate what we are doing and ask ourselves if we have lost the willingness to be all things to all people so that by all possible means we might save some. (1 Cor. 9:22)
But I also believe these results give us great reason to be encouraged. People are seeking God, and want to be closer to Him. They are looking for a church that is relevant to their lives and helps them deal with the complicated and challenging issues of our day. And the preaching and teaching of the church is something that people value. Even today people have not only high expectations of that teaching but also feel a great need for the preaching and teaching of the church to help them make sense of their lives.
So what’s the solution? I’m thinking the answer is the novel (not really) idea that we are to be interested and committed to both spirituality and religion. We are called to be both spiritual and religious, and are to cultivate both aspects of our life and faith. And we are to help others in our families and in our communities do the same.