Sunday, 6 August 2017

What do non-church Christians do?

Recently, I've been writing a fair bit about Christians who no longer attend church. Today I found that some survey stats on this topic.

They compared Christians who had not been to church in 6 months, called "Love Jesus but not the church", to "Practising Christians" which refers to people who go to church.

It turns out the church-leavers still hold the same beliefs as church-goers. If anything slightly moreso.

So these are not people who have lost faith. They just don't see value in church.


When it comes to spiritual practices, there are some differences.

The "Love Jesus but not church" group do less bible reading, journaling, reading spiritual books and (perhaps obviously) less meeting in groups. But they do more reflection in nature and more meditation. Prayer is about the same.

It's fair to say that these people are still Christians. I also think it's unfair to imply that they aren't "practising" because they don't enter a certain building. Some continue to denigrate them, wag the finger and say they should go to church.

Sure they would probably benefit from meeting with other Christians. But sadly almost the only thing that is available is the standard sing/pray/lecture process that many find so futile.

I think there needs to be more alternatives. Alternatives that value following Jesus as much as following a worship style.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

What leavers say

The book "Life After Church" is written for and about people in the process of leaving church. Here are some of the quotes from "leavers":

"Church used to be exciting to go to. It's not like they did anything different back then but I guess it was new and we were younger and hadn't heard these sermons. But as the years have gone by it seems a bit like Groundhog Day. The church has failed us because it really only serves new believers. I'm not sure if that's what they're setting out to do, but everything seems so basic." - Dave

"Sometimes I feel like I would get as much out of staying at home as going, or better yet fishing or reading a good book. I might experience truth at the very least-more than the morning at church. It just feels like one more thing on my week of things to do and there is a lack of joy associated with it, an obligation moreso." - Crystal

"The thing that strikes me most is the manner in which church has become a routine. Everyone falls into line, follows the events in the service: when to greet and say hello, when to pray, sing, shout etc. I felt like one robot in the midst of others - emotionless, passionless, without zeal." - Joann

"The focus was always on what we needed to stop doing and never what we ought to be doing. There wasn't much mention of Christ's redemptive power. This combination caused me to fell hopeless because it put the onus of perfection on me and I knew that wasn't working. The only reason I ever went back was guilt." - Dan

"We're told not to go where the non-Christians are because it's potentially dangerous and we should be in church as much as we can. Wednesday night service, Sunday morning service, Saturday (7am!) men's group, a small group etc. Where are the relationships with those not in the church? It's almost as if we put the evangelism on God. No seeking at all. Just waiting." - Dave

What can we learn from what these people say? Clearly they're not done with faith. If anything they long for more than church can currently deliver.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

4 stages of leaving church

People leave church. Some are shopping for a better church. Some no longer believe. Others are leaving the church not God.

These leavers (the subject and audience of this book) are leaving because of their pursuit of God. They "want to do what is right and to live in a way that honours Jesus" but find that "for them to stay (in church) and to remain faithful to Jesus are mutually exclusive".

So how does this happen? Author Brian Sanders says there are 4 stages:

Contentment

You're growing and learning and everything seems fine. At least if it's not fine we are able to focus on the positives.

Disaffection

Physically present. Emotionally absent. Thinking about leaving. You and the church are in different places. This might have been from a crisis or just from maturing as a Christian.

Threshold

Physically absent. Emotionally present. Now you've stopped attending church events. You still feel connected. You may still hope for change.

Full Exit

Physically and emotionally absent. You've now disconnected from church. Occasionally you may try to reconnect but generally the stage of contentment will disappear even quicker than before.

The author wonders if this leaving, rather than being a problem, is exactly what is needed. Perhaps it is too late to change church. Perhaps we need to leave it and build something new. Something closer to what Jesus taught.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Living Questionable Lives

Can I go now?

When I learned the topic would be evangelism, my enthusiasm for the mission seminar dropped sharply. I was already there so it was too late to leave. But I was in for a surprise.

Living questionable lives

Based on the bible passages 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 and 1 Peter 3:15-16 the premise of the talk was that few people are the evangelism type. The rest of us can live "questionable lives". What does that mean? Sometimes 'questionable' can means dubious, but in this context it just means something that might cause someone to ask a question.

In 1 Peter 3:15, St Paul gives advice for when we're asked about our faith. But that hardly ever happens. Our lifestyles are generally so predictable and non-intriguing that no questions are asked.

High predictability, low impact

There's nothing evil about a "fine upstanding middle-class lifestyle in the suburbs ... but if we’re trying to live questionable lives, then cutting the lawn, saying hi to the neighbours, washing our car, walking the dog and driving to the office every day is hardly an intriguing lifestyle".

Five Habits

The talk was based around the book Five Habits of Highly Missional People by Michael Frost. Both as individuals and as groups our habits are what make us the type of people we are. The habits outlined in the book, and the talk I was at, help us to be people (or churches) who are missional. They help us become more Christlike, more generous, and more connected to people outside of church.

The Five Habits of Highly Missional Pople Michael Frost

I recommend reading book. Here are the five habits/challenges:

1. Bless 3 people this week. It can be an affirmation, by serving or with a gift.
2. Eat with 3 people this week. We have to eat anyway, why not eat with someone?
3. Listen. Designate some time with no distraction to let God in and follow his prompting
4. Learn. Designate time to learning about Jesus. Read the Gospels or other books.
5. Sent. Journal the ways you're demonstrating the values of God.

There's more detail in the book, but that's the basics.

Overall, this is quite different from a lot of what church does. But church can possibly help. If you're in a church and can find others in who are interested in this, it may be helpful to make a small group to help you form these habits as part of your life.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Are the TV people right?

The Census data is out now!

Headline stats

The fraction of Australians who identify as Christian has gone from 61.1% to 52.1%.
"No religion" at 30.1% is now higher than any one denomination.
Catholics is highest with 22.6%.

My stats

I compared denominations. e.g. Catholics went from 25.3 to 22.6%, shrinking by a tenth.

Here is each denomination's shrinkage over 5 years.
Catholics: 10.7% smaller
Anglicans: 22.2% smaller
Uniting Church: 26% smaller
Presbyterian & Reformed: 17.9% smaller
Eastern Orthodox: 19.2% smaller
Other Christian: 2.4% smaller

TV people guessing

The TV talk that suggested that the child abuse crimes played a big part in the decrease seems to off-base given that the Catholic church (the most publicised during the child abuse investigations) showed the smallest decrease. The 'Other Christian' is a mixed bag of various small denomination and people who write just "Christian".

The ABC does a great interactive visualisation of the census - This is Australia as 100 People. Here's a screenshot of the religion bit.


Time ticking for Uniting Church

The Uniting Church is now just 4 dots. Even that is generous. It is 3.7% of Australia, down from 5.1% last time. This is not new news.

It is the church's biggest drop so far, and since 1991 it loses about one dot per census.

With just 4 dots left, its future is interesting.
Perhaps my projection of a 2041 end was too generous.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Different question, different answer?

Very soon the results will be released from the 2016 Census. One of the usual talking points is the shrinking of the number of Australians who identify with Christianity.

But this time the question has changed. Or more precisely, the answers choice has changed.

As "No religion" has become more popular over the years, the Census decided to move it to the top of the list of options.

Census Question 19

How much will this affect the results? What will people tick? In particular the people who were raised in a Christian denomination but have little to do with it these days.

In the past they may have ticked 'Anglican' for example and moved on to the next question, without reading down the list to find "No religion". Now it's at the top of the list, how many will now tick that option instead?

I guess what I'm asking is how much of the change this time will be due to people who have not changed their views but just ticked a more convenient box. And how much will be due to people who have actually left religion?

It will be interesting to see the results.




Sunday, 4 June 2017

The year the last church closes

Even as our country grows in population the church manages to shrink. That's not new news. But how quickly is this happening?

I've graphed the percent of Australians who put my denomination as their religion in the census.

It's a pretty clear trend.


The way things are headed (the dotted line) the year my denomination ceases will be 2040. Maybe 2041.

Why did I do this?
Partially just plain curiosity. But mostly I felt that in general church is quite complacent about this. I think we've sensed that decline has been happening for some time and that it's nothing to worry about.

But these numbers tell a different story. Things are looking very bleak very soon. It really is about time we start thinking of different ways to be church, because whatever we're doing no is clearly not connecting with people.

For too long we blame the people for disengaging, rather than ourselves for being so disengaging.