This post is going to offend people. If you are easily offended by facts, I’d recommend you click to another article. Now that I’ve given you fair warning, we’ll proceed.
Some of you who may have heard my podcast rant from a few weeks ago where I tore into the American church for being complacent and lazy. While I did get some pushback on that podcast, I stand by it. American Christianity is shallow, cowardly, and apathetic. The first-century church would be appalled at how empty and weak American Christianity. I followed up the next week explaining why there was a rant and added some additional explanatory comments including stating that many Christians view the church as entertainment. I’d like to expound on that view today.
We live in a culture where every desire can be obtained nearly instantly. Things that were inaccessible to the average person twenty years ago can now be accessed with the simple click of a mouse today, often for free. This has led to the rise of a culture that expects instant gratification. That isn’t news to anyone. However, the church’s response to this culture has left much to be desired.
Despite the instant gratification culture, there is still an innate part of man that wants to sacrifice for things that he values. This is why political candidates can raise millions of dollars and charities can take in millions every year. Man innately values sacrifice, if he believes in what he is giving towards. However, most churches have completely ignored this. Instead, in an effort to bring people through the door, they have decided to attempt to compete with the culture on gratification and entertainment.
The church has responded to the entertainment culture by trying to compete with the entertainment of the world. This will NEVER work for a couple of reasons. First, if your people, particularly young people, are there for entertainment, they will not last long. Your praise team is not nearly as good as the rock concert downtown. Your really good vocalist is nothing compared to what they can access on iTunes instantly. Nothing the average church can produce will ever compete with the world’s entertainment. Anything entertaining the world produces will always win when compared in quality to Christian entertainment, particularly since it, by default, appeals to man’s base nature. So when better entertainment comes around, or when they have a problem, they will leave.
In essence, we have turned God’s house, and by extension, God, into an entertainer rather than God. People have relationships with Christ in the same way that they have relationships with DJs. They may like what he plays at the club on Friday, but if he turns up at the front door on Sunday asking them to sacrifice something, be it money, time, talent whatever, they’d slam the door in his face. So it is with God. We’ve turned Christ into a celebrity, instead of Lord, and God into an entertainer instead of King and Creator.
This misrepresentation of God has led to young people seeing no special value in Christianity. Consider this. If the court jester tells you to do something, you laugh him off because it’s surely a joke. But when the King tells you to do something, you drop everything and do it. Why? Because the King has the authority to make such a command. Yet most churches treat God as the court jester, rather than King Who give them orders to be obeyed.
I have worked with numerous atheists in the past. Many of them were brought up in church. Now I am not a perfect Christian by any means, and I do not tell this particular story to make myself look good, because I am nothing. Rather the story is meant to illustrate how atheists view most Christians. This particular atheist had been raised in some form of church and, from what she said, had left because she lost a family member close to her as a teenager and blamed God for it. I find many atheists are atheists because they blame God for something. However, that aside, at one point, she told me I was the only genuine Christian she knew. This coming from a woman whose best friend called himself a Christian but lived a life about as Christian as Hugh Hefner. That’s not to say I’m perfect at all. Instead, it points out that atheists and other non-believers recognize hypocrisy a lot faster than Christians do. I find young people are the quickest at recognizing people who claim to be committed to Christ but really aren’t. This may explain why we’re losing 70-88% of young people depending on whose number you use.
Let’s step back and make this personal to each of us. How do we know that the church we are in has a proper reverence for the King of Kings? How do we know that we are not accidentally alienating the young people in our churches? Having worked with young people practically non-stop since college, I can attest, the quickest way to make them abandon the church is to expose them to shallow Christianity. We need to stem the flood. This article is meant to help you identify if your church is shallow. We may write future articles on how to respond if it is.
Think about your church. I’m sure there are good aspects of it, or you wouldn’t be there. However, ask yourself this question? Is deep, or shallow? You may respond “Of course it’s deep!” Really? I’ll lay pretty good odds most of you don’t attend deep churches and I’m about to demonstrate this to you with a series of questions for you to answer.
1. Does the pastor support his chosen topic by citing Scripture?
If your answer is yes, proceed to question 2a. If no, you are in a shallow church. This is the ultimate question because no matter what programs a church has if the preaching is empty, the church will be too.
2a. Is over fifty percent of your church service music, announcements, and programs?
If your answer to this question is no, proceed to question 3. If you aren’t sure, proceed to 2b. If your answer is yes, then you are in a shallow church. Your church is more focused on entertainment and programs than it is on the Holy Word of God. This will destroy the church eventually.
2b. If you were unsure about 2a, then answer this. If a special speaker comes in and has a longer presentation to give, who cedes time, the music and announcements, or the speaker?
If the speaker cedes time, then you are in a shallow church. Keep people entertained through music and programs is more important than what the speaker as to say. If the music and programs cede time, proceed to question 3.
3. Does your church have more than one service a week as an option where the message is different? Sunday School does not count.
If your answer is yes, proceed to question 4. If no, then you are in a shallow church that is not willing to sacrifice a little bit of time and effort to know God better.
4a. If your church has children’s ministries/ youth group/ Sunday School how is the time split between games, crafts, music, and the Bible?
If the Bible does not have more than half the time in these settings, you are in a shallow church. If it does have more than half the time in these settings, proceed to question 4b.
4b. If your church has children’s ministries, do they present the Bible as God’s Word, or as fun moral stories?
If your church’s children’s ministries present the Bible as God’s Word, proceed to question 4c. If not, you are in a shallow church.
4c. If your church has a youth group when was the last time the youth group took an outing that had a purely Scriptural, rather than entertaining purpose? Mixed events, where they go have a good time and get a brief devotional at the end are entertainment events.
If your answer is that they have never gone to a Scriptural event, or only rarely, then you are in a shallow church. If not, proceed to question 5.
5. Does your church have any outreach into the community that involves directly proclaiming the Gospel to the lost, not just do-gooding?
If your answer to that question is no, then you are in a shallow and soon to be a dead church. Your church is failing to perform the Great Commision. If your church does have such ministries, proceed to question 6.
6. Last question. Does your church have the opportunity to participate in extra-curricular Bible studies that do not take place as a part of the regular church service?
If you answer no, you are in a shallow church. If you’ve gotten this far and have not been classified as shallow yet, then congratulations, you probably are in a decent church. However, be watchful. Because you are likely in a decent church, Satan will be targetting your church to destroy it.
Now if you at some point discovered that your church is likely shallow, what can you do? Well, you could leave, but, depending on the issue, you might be able to effect change instead. If the pastor’s preaching does not use the Bible, leave. You cannot change that. However, the rest of the things probably can be worked around or changed. If there is interest, I can write a post addressing how to fix these issues, but the short version is likely to be to volunteer to work in or start these ministries yourself.