There’s a lot wrong with the church today. Your church, my church, the neighbor’s church, the church you aren’t going to, the church you attend currently, the church you used to go to, the Catholics, the Protestants, the Baptists, the Evangelicals, the myriad of Other Denominations… every one of them is a big fat mess. That congregation is going to die in the next decade. This congregation has a bunch of college kids and no budget. The music is too loud here. The music is too organ-oriented there. They wave flags during worship. I don’t understand the shofar. They only do communion once a month. There’s no community. It’s over-programmed. There’s nothing for my kids. They don’t get me. I don’t get them.
As a veteran church hopper, I’ve used nearly every one of these reasons for why a particular church isn’t right for me. I’ve been a consumer of church culture, hunting for my next worship experience like picking out a restaurant. Yeah, sure, some of the people seem okay, a few of them look normal, we might be able to be nice to each other, their chips and salsa are delicious, but they aren’t like us. We’re not like them. Their fajitas are bland. This will never work out.
According to a Pew Research religious landscape study, 25% of the older cohort of millennials (those born between 1981 and 1989) claimed no religious affiliation back in 2007. This same group, now aged 25 to 33, bumped the “none” number up by 9 percentage points—more than a third now claim no religious affiliation.
Is it because church isn’t trendy? Is it because church is boring? Or is it because, as Bono says, we still haven’t found what we’re looking for?
As the church scrambles to either keep up with the neighbors’ cheesy church signs and trendy movie sermon series or buckles down on its rigid fundamentalism eschewing all outside influences—both good and ill—where does it leave those of us who still believe or want to believe, who still see the need for hope inspired and grace delivered, who long to see Jesus personified in his bride, the church, but have grown frustrated with her frumpiness, her offensive offendedness, her lack of grace and charity?
These last five years, I’ve wanted to just leave the church. And I have for stretches of time, abandoning the hunt and sitting out of the Sunday morning pew routine, opting for a faith kept without the rituals and gathering instead with fellow believers over barbecued meat, bourbon, and bonfires. It felt more real. It felt more authentic. It felt more like community—the thing I really longed for, after love and faith and hope.
But there is something strange and wonderful about singing a common song together. There is something mysterious and powerful about taking bread and wine and calling them body and blood, and breaking them, remembering them. There is something awe-inspiring and humbling about discovering the like-mindedness of strangers/fellow believers who gather in one place in spite of their myriad differences because they hold one singular belief, celebrate one singular Love.
A favorite quote attributed to Gandhi is floating around the Internet: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It’s nice. Gandhi never said it, but it’s nice. According to the New York Times op-ed contributor Brian Morton, the closest quote from Gandhi to this line is, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him . . . We need not wait to see what others do.”
We need not wait or wander church door to church door looking for the perfect world that can cater to our needs and desires. The church can stop with the gimmicks. She can end her trinket and tchotchke handouts. She can cool it with the Star Wars movie sermon series. She can do all this by binding herself back with Jesus.
If that’s what we really want, if we really want the church to be like Jesus again, then let’s get ourselves back together, behaving like Jesus, individually as believers and together as a church. The remarkable grace, the excellent mercy, the unbelievable forgiveness that draws us to Jesus in the first place shines brighter than any fluorescent church sign declaring some god’s hellfire judgment.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, and when all of us with all of our little lights unite, that light will shine even brighter, like a city on a hill, like the light of the world.
Be the change you want to see in the church.