You Pick Three
Recently, the famed Barna Group (the research firm behind such studies as The Exploration of Faith in New York Since 9-11) published The State of the Church 2016. While I’m not a devoted student of statistics, nor do I defer to analytics to make my decisions (frankly, 91.4% of statistics are manufactured or fabricated … just like that one I completely made up!), I do see value in observing trends.
In their aforementioned report, the Barna team introduced their findings with this summary: “The Christian church has been a cornerstone of American life for centuries, but much has changed in the last 30 years. Americans are attending church less, and more people are experiencing and practicing their faith outside of its four walls. Millennials, in particular, are coming of age at a time of great skepticism and cynicism toward institutions—particularly the church. Add to this the broader secularizing trend in American culture, and a growing antagonism toward faith claims, and these are uncertain times for the U.S. church.”
Uncertain times, to be sure. But not cause for alarm. God has promised to build his church (Matthew 16:18), and the New Testament papers provide compelling evidence that God is in the business of reconciling broken people to himself, even amid persecution, racial and cultural tension, and spiritual indifference.
That said, here’s an interesting (and perplexing) statistic from the Barna report: despite a marked decrease in church attendance across America—only 31% of Americans now attend church regularly—73% still claim to be Christians. This means that the majority of folks who call themselves Christians do not attend church even once a month. However, 55% of those same folks still self-identify as not only Christians but “churched.” How do we explain this discrepancy?
Well, it makes more sense when we consider this definition from Barna: “Churched adults are active churchgoers who have attended a church service—with varying frequency—within the past six months.” What this means is: while there is a significant percentage of people who regularly spend their Sundays apart from the gathered assembly, they do feel compelled to attend church at least once every six months or so, particularly on holidays and during special seasons.
Here’s why I’m sharing this information: we are fast-approaching Good Friday and Easter, the time of year when, as Christians, we reflect more intensely on the passion of the Christ and the triumph of Jesus as he conquered death, hell, and the grave. And, for some reason, people who seldom “go to church” are obliged to attend church during this season. Only God knows why. Guilt? Curiosity? Contrition? Regardless, those who would normally say ‘no’ to our polite invitations to join us for worship are far more likely to say ‘yes’ at this time of year.
So, with that in mind, would you pray about inviting someone to our services on Easter Sunday? I’m going to go one step further: would you identify three “unchurched” friends or neighbors that you would ask to join you here at Northpoint on Easter morning. We will have three identical services: 7:30 a.m., 9:00 a.m., and 10:45 a.m. In all three, we will rejoice in our Savior’s resurrection, reflect on the Good News, and consider how that affects our lives today. Your invitation might very well serve as the catalyst that God uses to bring someone to a place of forgiveness, freedom, and a restored relationship with their Creator.