They Don’t Want In

Published 5:08 pm Friday, March 18, 2022

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By Charles Qualls

Ever feel like you can’t figure out how to get in? Maybe we will visit a new group. Or we try something new, but it seems like everyone there has already been at whatever the group does for a while. They’re insiders.

Due to a problem with a glass shower door, I’ve been “guesting” (as we call it) in the bathroom down the hall that my wife uses. There was no need for me to bring just everything with me, as we can share.

Trouble came as I squinted at the various labels to see what was shampoo and what wasn’t. I don’t want to use the wrong product, you know. One thing that I think was conditioner appeared to have a secret formula involving Moroccan oils and such. I finally spied the word “shampoo” on another label.

Whatever happened to just a plain bottle of shampoo? Nowadays, if you don’t possess a chemical engineering degree, you feel unqualified to use some of those products. When I read the description for what kind of hair the shampoo was designed to treat, I couldn’t figure out if I should use it or try another.

Last week, I went to a regional training school for upcoming presidents within Rotary International. I’ll be serving our local club beginning later this year. Low and behold, in one breakout conference we had a discussion on the need for Rotary to remove its barriers to membership. Specifically, there are a lot of acronyms and jargon that no newcomer can quite decipher. Shoot, half of the members probably don’t know what all of those terms mean.

When a group or organization develops insider lingo, secret handshakes and the like, they shouldn’t also turn around and complain about declining membership and their fears about survival. Instead, they have to realize that in part, they’ve done it to themselves. Because any barrier to newcomers (read: outsiders) is a problem.

The global Christian church has watched declining membership and participation patterns for decades now. Oh, any of us could point to an exception. Usually a newer church or a church that is located in a fast growing part of town. But the general, overall pattern is decline.

In North America, Christian churches grew steadily from the late 1800s until just after World War II. Then, with the onset especially of revivalists like Billy Graham’s popularity, churches grew quite rapidly. This massive growth continued through about the mid-1970s. However, whispers were already being heard in many established churches that folks just weren’t showing up like they once had.

Now, a couple of generations have passed where church activity wasn’t advocated by parents like it once was. Culture in general, including the business world, does not embrace church-going as it once did either. Sports downright went into competition with the church and won. Also, more and more of you are being asked to work on Sundays. Why? Because the business and recreational sport worlds noticed you weren’t observing Sunday as a holy day anymore.

The church wrings its collective hands in consternation over these patterns. We talk about the “ought-to” aspects of parents needing to bring their children to church. About young folks’ need to be interested in the gathered faith. The empathetic among us will even sound the alarm and point out that we have so many of our own insider words and secret handshakes that those outside the church can’t get in. They may feel like they’re reading a complicated shampoo label.

Here’s the hard news: they don’t want in. Many of them don’t these days, anyway. Why so?

Because generations of them have watched the church turn her back on legitimate needs, take stances that Jesus himself wouldn’t have taken at key moments in cultural history, and generally close herself to anyone who is not just like us. They’ve also listened to mean-spirited Christians bark about the need to get everyone “saved,” then turn around and be complete jerks to anyone they come in contact with.

The net result is that we’ve bolted our own doors all too often. Is it too late? For many churches, it is. But for others, we’ll have to awaken to what’s looking at us in the mirror. We’ll have to understand that if we want a growing church, the pastor won’t bring ‘em in by him or herself. If we want to have new people, we’ll have to have healthy relationships and invite them ourselves. Each one of us. Are you up for that, church friends?