My chest is tight even as I plunk out letters on my keyboard. Tight from a fear welled up inside me that if I write these thoughts down, they are suddenly solidified – unable to be denied. However, you reach a point sometimes at which keeping something inside becomes more painful than just letting it all out. So today I’m letting it all out.

Eric and I have stopped going to church. Last year, we went to the holiday service at the church we called home, and found the service so entertainment-focused, so far from genuine and so far from the life-transforming story of Christmas, that tears streamed down my cheeks as I watched, knowing that I would never be back.

In the new year, we set out on the search for a new home; a new place where we could experience a genuine interaction with God and his people. We read about the church of the New Testament and how they gathered in homes over food and drink and discussed the ways of God and how to be a disciple of this man named Jesus. We set out with vigor to find what God’s word described. We began to enter the churches of Orange County as the mythical and oft-discussed “first time visitors”. What we found surprised us. The churches were all identical; and not in a change-making, life-coursing-through-them kind of way. They were carbon copies of each other that don’t remotely resemble the church Eric and I have gotten to know in God’s word. After a few months, we found ourselves inside a revolving door of “new building, same routine”.

Mildly happy looking people walking into a modern-yet-understated building. Cheerful “good morning” from a greeter. Get a bulletin with some sort of sunset and a cross on it. Lights low. Sit down. Worship starts. Fog machines and lights. Stand up. Energetic worship leader in plaid shirt and jeans. Female back up singer. Cool graphics on the projection screen. Two fast songs. Two slow songs. Prayer about desiring God. Pastor welcomes. Shake the hand of someone next to you. Insincere greetings with people whose names no one will remember in 30 seconds. Sit down. 20 minute sermon referencing simple scriptures with corny jokes intertwined, culminating in the idea that God loves us no matter what. Fervent prayer. Final song. Announcement about how the church is moving out of their current, perfectly acceptable building into a new, much cooler and bigger building that will fit four times the people. Offering collection. Have a great week.

Over. And over. And over.  Timed. Contrived. Lifeless.  

When I close my eyes and imagine Jesus with his disciples, or Paul inside a crowded house, I envision no worship leaders, no “Sunday best”, no pulpits, no DVD-based sermon series. I just imagine tight little groups of people breaking bread together and soaking in the wisdom of God passed down through His word. In fact, even though David was known to sing praises to God, the only places where the words “music” and “worship” even coincide in the Bible are in relation to idol worship of pagans. How I wish I could hop in a Delorean and sit in on a service in the early church, or a meeting with Christ and his disciples and copy down the way church is to be done. But as I looked around the buildings we found ourselves in, I tilted my head and wondered: this can’t be right, can it?

My heart hurts at the state of the church. It is a gathering of THOUSANDS of kind, loving people who want relationships with God, but are instead walking into a building every Sunday and going through motions of a routine that leaves them moderately in a good mood, but without a transforming power in their lives. So they return to work on Monday with no joy, no resolve to help others and we are all worse off than before – the Gospel has not been propelled.

So many of the church’s practices are hindering the momentum of God’s presence rather than helping it. I have watched young people in church be so emotionally affected by music and overly-fervent prayer and theatrics,  that they truly THOUGHT that’s what it was all about, only to leave the church months later at the first sign of difficulty, because no roots or practicality had been part of their faith. They were the seed that fell upon shallow soil and blew away in the storm. The “experience” that the church is often selling (surely, without the intention of doing so) is what people are buying into all across America, and the result?  Shallow congregations who view church as a feel-good social club or “the right thing to do” rather than an avenue to become world-changing disciples of Christ.

Many would say that the “small group” is acting as the modern New Testament format of the church, with the Sunday service simply a “Go Team, Go” gathering to send everyone back out to the week. I do recognize that many have had genuine, strong relationships which stem from small groups and that real God experiences are had there. My complaints, however, are two-fold: 1. Those attending Sunday church who are shy about joining a small group are being missed completely. 2. Small groups often don’t provide an open, question-welcoming, doubt-is-okay format. I’ve experienced some that seem just as closed-off as the whole-church setting.

The reason it has taken me nearly a year to post this stems from another one of the problems I feel the church has today. Judgment. I’ve been terrified that my doubt in the church and its current format would spawn judgment from the people I know – that they’ll think I’ve gone off the deep end, that I’m a back-slider, that I’m a “doubting Thomas”. It seems to me that anyone who turns toward some alternative that is not the acceptable formula of today’s church immediately falls under the scrutiny of everyone else who still feels comfortable with it. I strongly feel that there exists a fear among Christians to be honest and introspective regarding their doubts and their openness toward understanding God’s word. Honest conversations are not occurring. Blind following of the crowd is rampant, and what we’re left with is a church that accepts the mindset of the masses, instead of a generation of truth-seekers.

What has given me the courage to post this is the realization that I’m not alone. In fact, Eric and I are in VERY good company, as we’ve read about young people are leaving the church in hoards due to a contrived church experience that is not meaningful. Does this mean I no longer want a relationship with God? Not at all. In fact, my prayer life and reading of God’s word have been enriched more than I would have ever imagined during this time of absence from the church, due to my desire to know the right path for Eric and me, and God’s constant, unending grace for my errant heart. God is real and alive and I cling to His nearness daily. I will never denounce my God.

But I long for church. Real church. I could write an entire other blog chronicling the times this year that I’ve been “to church” and none of them involved walking through the doors of a lovely building.  One was a Sunday afternoon laying out with my sister. We were laughing, reading magazines and having beers, when suddenly, our conversation fell upon God and we prayed over each other as tears rolled. No songs. No sermon. No theatrics or skits. Just a genuine movement of God that left each of us closer to God and each other.

So, yes, I want church. But I don’t feel comfortable buying what the current American church is selling. An article that I read recently introduced a couple who left the church and chronicled what they did instead. I cried as I read about all the places they could go and instantly “belong” regardless of who they were – but that the church was never one of those places. What a tragedy. I’ve experienced some of the same. Many churches boast “A place for everyone to belong” or “All are welcome here!” but if you look around and see who is attending; the lack of diversity, the absence of the poor, homeless, disenfranchised,  or different you’ll see that the “welcome one and all” message is not getting through.

Earlier today my husband posted an article about some churches in Texas that are including craft beer as part of their service. Lutheran churches, no less. It’s not a “come and get free beer if you attend our church” idea. It’s stemming off the notion of something more; a “come as you are – even beer drinkers” philosophy. A “Cheers” kind of church, taking the familiarity of the idea of a bar, but adding in the absolutely transformative power of Christ and seeing where it goes. It’s different. It’s experimental. It excites me. It may even attract the leery who view the church as a legalistic house of “rules” that they could never be a part of. It says “You’re accepted here.” Also, I think this funny idea welcomes in a completely neglected species who are marginalized in most church services: MEN. Men who have avoided church so they don’t have to awkwardly sing “Jesus, you are my lover” week after week, who have to hold hands with strangers in prayer circles, who have to “share their feelings” and “talk it out”, who are being asked to be part of the emotion-ridden services that exist today. My husband longs for the “Sit around the campfire eating freshly caught fish” gospel the disciples experienced. Men need to be welcomed back. (Feel free to pick up “Why Men Hate Going to Church” by David Murrow for statistics on male vs. female church attendance and other startling information).

No, I’m not saying beer is inherently what the church today needs. I’m simply giving you an idea of the places my husband and I are looking to find a sampling of Christianity that looks more like the simplicity, honesty and openness we have always seen in the Bible, but not anywhere else. We know no church is perfect, and we’re not looking for perfection. But we’re not settling until God calls us to a place that undoubtedly represents truth according to His word, and is willing to go against the predictable and ineffective mold of the modern Christian church.

This is only one opinion. I know that some of what I’ve stated here could be wrong. I’m not claiming absolute truth. I’m only claiming absolute honesty. I welcome the judgment and the questions from anyone who wants to ask them, because remaining quiet and pretending gets us nowhere. I am a truth-seeker.

God’s people are meant to be in fellowship with each other, grow from each other and encourage one another in their faith. I know that out there somewhere, like me, someone is looking for a radical, make-atheists-do-a-double-take kind of change. I declare: we will not be homeless forever.

Please feel free to read the articles that prompted my writing today:

  1. https://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/528-six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church
  2. http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/october/confessions-of-returned-millennial-christian.html?visit_source=facebook&start=1
  3. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/11/03/242301642/to-stave-off-decline-churches-attract-new-members-with-beer?utm_content=socialflow&utm_campaign=nprfacebook&utm_source=npr&utm_medium=facebook

 *If we are Facebook friends, please post any comments on my Facebook page. I don’t check blog comments as often. ❤

~ Miriam


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Kristine Christlieb Canavan
    Dec 19, 2013 @ 02:45:35

    If one googled “have stopped going to church” I wonder how many hits there would be. It is definitely a struggle . . . nothing seems quite right. Have you tried any Mennonite services? You are certainly right about men. My husband is Catholic; he is terrified of the kinds of services you described.


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