Several weeks ago, I shared what had recently alarmed me. A few days before, I had encountered data compiled from a survey of four schools–namely, our local high school district’s outgoing four senior classes. The survey revealed that of 40 qualities which represent basic overall personal health, only one finished in a distant dead last. 22% said they possessed this quality: only 22% of our seniors claimed to invest a minimum one hour of time in organized religious activity each week.
When I shared this data a few weeks ago, a buzz arose from those who had read the article or who saw my blog posting. “22%?!!!” many responded. “That’s tragic!” “That’s terrible!” “What kind of parents do we have raising kids these days?” Most of the responses to the raw facts of church attendance came from churchy folks who were bummed, incredulous, or who offered some prophetic discourse on how America is going down the tubes, etc., etc., etc.
Now, if you knew me well, you’d know that I wouldn’t share results like that to act like “a voice crying in the wilderness” decrying the end of the world…the end of America…or the moral decline of our beloved Lincoln-Way community. Lots of times, religious folk can work one another into a frenzy about how bad things in America have become or are becoming. Stats like 22% get them even more frazzled. But, truthfully, the article about the 22% wasn’t a message for the hand-wringers among the 22% who go to church. It was for the 78% who don’t.
So, here’s my second attempt.
“Ah-hem.” [Tap the mike to see if it’s on.]
“Hello, 78%. Ummmmm, hi. Yes, the church-goers have left the building, so we can speak honestly without feeling judged or worrying that we’re going to get somebody upset. So…let’s just say it. You’re the ones who don’t ever go to church. Yes, there are a bunch of church jokes with you all as punchlines. And, no, I’m not worried that the roof will cave in or that hell will freeze over because you’re here.
“Actually, though I’m a pastor, you might expect me to judge you or get down on you because you’re a ‘Creaster,’ a serial ‘skipper’, unchurched, de-churched, or a skeptic. But that’s not the way I tick or the way I believe. First thing: I love you. Yes, I love you. If I weren’t so into what I believe, trust me, I’d be where you are each Sunday…some place else. I get that you see church as boring, obsolete, judgmental (yes, ironically filled with hypocrites), dusty, or annoying. I know, I know. Me, too. It’s why I got out. I stopped being religious and started a church.
“78%, even though we’re on opposite sides of this number, I’m on your side. So much so, I’ve got to let you know something. You’re missing something important. Like veggies and oxygen important…but more even. There’s something here that’s good for your soul that you can’t find anywhere else. No, we don’t think we own God or that we have Him caged in our building. Quite the opposite: He is unleashed here. You need to be around people who are experiencing this. I dare you to come. Four Sundays in a row so you get a good, fair taste. I dare you to talk to somebody or sing a song or listen to the words or follow through on what the pastor suggested. And see what happens. I bet you won’t be in the 78% anymore.
“Ahem.” [Long pause.] “And thus concludes the beginning…”