Loving Jesus but not the Church?

Posted by Jerry Roth on

Each week I read a broad array of articles, blogs, e-newsletters and books from diverse sources interested in the future of our churches. Topics usually coalesce a few days or even weeks before I actually write a summary of the attached articles or books for the weekly update. This week’s theme emerged from two disparate but connected thoughts  that I read and heard in the last 48 hours. Both comments caught me off guard. Maybe that is the simple definition of the Spirit nudging our consciousness.

The first commentary came from an interesting article from Barna titled, Meet Those Who “Love Jesus but Not the Church” .

The article is based on significant research that indicates “even though more and more Americans are abandoning the institutional church and its defined boundary markers of religious identity, many still believe in God and practice faith outside its walls.” Barna’s demographic research indicates that almost half of America is unchurched. This study looks at an interesting segment of the unchurched – “those who self-identify as Christian and who strongly agree that their religious faith is very important in their life, but are ‘de-churched’—that is, they have attended church in the past, but haven’t done so in the last six months (or more).” I encourage you to read this research, filled with infographics, as a way of better understanding this segment of our population, a likely focus of our evangelistic ministries.

What stopped me in my tracks was the following summary comment, “The critical message that churches need to offer this group is a reason for churches to exist at all. What is it that the church can offer their faith that they can’t get on their own? Churches need to be able to say to these people—and to answer for themselves—that there is a unique way you can find God only in church.”  Hold that thought while I share my second Spirit nudging that I experienced this week at a presentation to church staff and leaders about church branding.

The title of the presentation was Your Church’s Brand – What Message Are You Sending presented by Robert McFarland, President of Transformational Impact, a consulting practice focusing on helping companies and ministries harness the power of their vision. He defines branding as the sum of all the interactions, experiences and impressions that people have of your church. These impressions exist whether your church is intentional about its branding efforts or not. I am a strong proponent of churches regularly reviewing and updating their branding consciousness while updating their strategic plan (I suggest a 3-year planning frequency). As he completed an interactive training with the attendees, he casually made this statement, “Are we trying to sell something they don’t want?” Don’t let your initial reaction that churches don’t “sell” things get in the way of the power of this statement and its relationship to the first comment question above – what do churches offer that the de-churched can’t get on their own?

As church staff and leaders, I believe we are being called by the Spirit to acknowledge this emerging reality and respond with authentic leadership that clearly answers these challenging questions. We must take time for prayer and discernment, asking the Spirit to fill us with a message that can honestly answer why we are inviting them, encouraging them to be active members of our faith communities. As we live out our church leadership roles, I encourage you to set aside time to reread these piercing questions, asking the Spirit to fill you with the wisdom and the words that will encourage the unchurched – and ourselves – to respond to God’s loving call of belonging to the community of believers within our loving church communities.

I hope you will take up the challenge of these difficult but important questions. I look forward to hearing about the wisdom that the Spirit will share through your discernment. Many blessings on your journey.



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