It seems more Bahamians are drawing closer to God by staying farther away from church.
While Bahamians have traditionally been people who love them some Jesus, many are content to experience Him from the comfort of their homes and skip the drama of Sunday worship.
Church leaders often joke that people come to church to be hatched, matched or dispatched, but even they are quick to admit that church attendance and giving isn’t what it used to be.
The reasons for that have been explained repeatedly, however, they continue to go unaddressed. Let’s look at some of the challenges our churches face.
The Sunday Sermons Suck
No matter how hard some people try, they just can’t feel a connection to God. That’s because the sermons are incredibly boring. Take a look at other congregants during the sermon. Oftentimes, their eyes are glazed over. They’re there, but they’re not there.
That’s because some churches are so rigid and steeped in tradition that they never veer off script, never applying the principles of God to people’s daily lives so that they could connect. So, even the ones who are attending church regularly are not being fed a proper spiritual diet.
I used to attend church with someone who was adamant that her church leader was good. After church, I would ask her what she got from the sermon. Her responses were always vapid. I would then ask her to tell me what stood out. She couldn’t give me one line that did. I gave her the benefit of the doubt that maybe she wasn’t good at summarizing sermons, but after attending church with her on several other occasions and asking the same question, she still couldn’t say what stood out. She, too, was disconnected, but didn’t want to admit it. I would hear congregants murmuring that so-and-so should have been preaching instead.
The mere act of going to church isn’t helpful. You’re supposed to get something out of it. It’s like going to the doctor and having him explain the science behind medicine, but never telling you how it can help you with your ailment.
Perhaps this is why there’s a new generation of Bahamians who’d much prefer to watch Joel Osteen or Dr. Charles Stanley on television and sate their spiritual appetites. They haven’t turned away from God, just the church.
There are also arrogant church leaders who are ill-equipped to answer tough questions from an inquisitive congregant. Those questioning God or questioning the Bible are seen as iconoclasts and perhaps even sacrilegious rather than what they truly are – curious.
The Caste System
Church is the one place where people should go and not feel like an outcast. In church, everyone is supposed to be equal. But, too often, what we see is a caste system in those hallowed four walls.
While I think it’s only right to show deference to a longstanding church member, churches have to be careful not to create an environment where those people or other members who may financially contribute more than others are not treated like demi-gods.
There are churches that literally reserve seating areas for certain prominent members. Other members are relegated to the outskirts, once again reminded of their station in life outside and inside the church.
I remember attending a church years ago and witnessing another guest being asked to move from a longstanding member’s seat. The guest had arrived early and clearly had no idea that seats were reserved in that church. The entire scene was embarrassing as he was rudely asked to get up and move. I watched that guest collect his things and leave altogether. The usher continued being dismissive and rude. Minutes later, I left. I knew that I couldn’t remain there and condone the behavior, plus I would have been sitting through the entire service thinking about that situation.
Even though it didn’t happen to me, it could have and I just knew that was not the church for me.
Churches have to be careful. That man may not have been the strongest believer but got up that morning with the hopes of giving church another try. Then, something like that happens and it’s another reminder of why he has stayed away.
Help Me Not Help You
The church is in the business of changing lives and winning souls for God. But, it’s also in the business of helping its members when they experience hard times. At least they should be.
People become disenchanted with churches when they experience a difficult moment in their life, call on them for help and not receive it. This has happened with many tithe-paying members, as well as those who have given service to the church. It sends the message that faithfulness and loyalty are not rewarded. It also sends the message to others watching that the church simply does not care. It breeds contempt, causing people to stay away altogether.
Only God Can Judge . . . When We’re Not Judging
Church is a microcosm of society. Therefore, it reflects many of the values of the community at large. Sadly, a lot of the judgment that exists outside the church also makes its way into the pews.
Years ago, a single mother told me a story of how her church reacted when she got pregnant. She grew up in the church and was always eager to serve. But, when she returned home from college pregnant, attitudes changed.
The church elders treated her like a jezebel, people were reluctant to sit next to her and her growing belly, and the Sunday sermons suddenly seemed crafted with an out-of-wedlock theme.
She was completely ostracized to the point where she stopped attending church altogether.
Now, does that make sense to hurt a young expectant mother’s feelings to the point where she stops coming to church? These are clearly people who are content to say they are Christians rather than behave like one. And they have taken on God’s role to judge their neighbors.
Any church leader looking to entice members back into the folds will have to do some serious soul searching and address these problems head on. Until then, people will continue to stay away.
Let me know what you think.