Why They Stay Away from Church
There are good reasons why millions of people do not attend church. Here is their explanation.
CHRISTENDOM’S mighty army of “Christian soldiers” are deserting by the millions. From Scandinavia, Central Europe, England, Canada, the United States and other parts of the globe gloomy pastors report a staggering number of churchgoers who are absent without leave. In the United States alone, thirty to forty million church members are missing from Sunday services. Perplexed clergymen are asking, Why?
An investigation reveals that there are basically two kinds of nonchurchgoers. One group has never joined a church and does not go. The other kind belongs to a church and does not go either. Ministers call the first group the “outsiders.” The latter millions are said to be sheep that have lost their way. Ironically, many of them feel it is the church that has lost its way.
According to a recent survey, the “outsiders” stay away from church because they feel no need of it. Very few of them are atheists, however. Many say that they can be close to God without joining a church. A large number prefer their own personal religious philosophy that fits into no particular creed. Some say they resent petty sermons against drinking, smoking or dancing. “Outsiders” do not particularly care for the holier-than-thou attitude they find in churchgoers who, they feel, have reserved heaven for themselves and hell for their neighbors. Some “outsiders” avoid church as a practical saving of dollars and cents. This much was learned in a three-year survey made for the United Presbyterian Church. The findings were made public last February 15.
Clergymen may counter with the claim that these “outsiders” do not realize the deep religious significance of the church. They see it only as a mere sociological institution that offers companionship and comforts lightly flavored with ethics. If that is true, it does not explain why the millions of church members who spent years inside the church now prefer to be elsewhere on Sunday. Why did their exposure to the “deep religious significance” of the church fail to keep them coming back?
If you were to ask the stay-at-homes what kept them away, in many cases they would express their grievances somewhat like this:
‘I used to be very active in church work. Membership was a busy round of committee meetings, telephone calls, planning programs, getting out attendance. That was the trouble; the minister and the congregation were too concerned about raising funds, boy scout troops and other social affairs that had nothing to do with our salvation. This preoccupation with mundane things was reflected in the Sunday sermons too.
‘Our minister could hold his own as an eloquent speaker, but I kept wishing that he would get down to earth. Only on rare occasions did he say anything that I could remember an hour later. Jesus and Paul were quoted from the pulpit now and then, but they had lots of competition from Bertrand Russell, Reinhold Niebuhr, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and whomever else the minister chose to echo.
‘From hellfire and brimstone the fashion in sermons went to the other extreme of tranquilizing sermons on how to conquer tension and stress. The pulpit time devoted to success and “peace of mind” disturbed me. The need for virtue gave place to the desirability of vim, vigor and vitality. Applied psychology seemed misapplied when it kept coming from the man who was paid to teach us about God. No wonder I avoided discussing religion—even my own. I did not know enough about it. Time and again I came away from Sunday services feeling that I had not been fed spiritually. Something was radically wrong.
‘A church missionary said we were afflicted with creeping Buddhism, and he was right. Gradually we had come to believe that one religion is as good as another, so long as you believe. The missionary said that the Buddhists say the same thing—all religions are merely different roads leading to the same goal. If Jesus got up in our church and repeated his remark, “Narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it,” I doubt if he would be welcomed back.—Matt. 7:14.
PRINCE OF WAR
‘Another thing that did not fit Jesus for our church was his title, the Prince of Peace. Whether he liked it or not our church made him the Prince of War. Our brand of Christianity was nationalistic through and through. Fortunately, the government under which our church resided always happened to be on the right moral side of every war that came along; at least that is what we were told. That made it convenient for our clergy to preach the cause of a holy war or crusade for humanity. It troubled me though to find opposing armies composed of members of the same churches, including mine. One clergyman assured us that war is God’s way of populating heaven. I had doubt about that, but there was no question that the millions of casualties tended to depopulate the earth. In our church it was only on December 25 that Christ once more became the Prince of Peace. To me a warlike Christianity did not make sense.
‘Once or twice our pastor reminded us that we are supposed to be the light of the world. We did not have enough zeal to illuminate our hometown. In fact, from a doctrinal standpoint, things were a little hazy right inside our church. Much of it was due to the Trinity doctrine, which somehow did not add up. The church said it was a mystery and that we should let it go at that. On occasion our pastor would discuss the resurrection, especially on Easter Sunday. But, then, at family funerals the emphasis was put on the immortality of the soul and its departure for heaven. That puzzled me too. If Christ or anybody had an immortal soul, why would he also need a resurrection? It seemed superfluous. The pastor said the resurrection united Christ’s body with his immortal soul and both went to heaven. I found out later that the Bible says this is impossible. (1 Cor. 15:50) It was not too often that we heard Bible discussions from the pulpit, since the minister found it necessary to deal with more pressing issues than everlasting life. What doctrine we did hear left many things unanswered.
‘Another thing that left a question mark in my mind was the church’s teaching that God put man on earth to test him and see if man was worthy of heaven. That meant that this earth has no other purpose than to be a proving ground. But how is it that the angels of heaven were created for their domain without going through this suffering along with Adam’s children? And if this wicked world is the way God wanted it, that brings up another disturbing question: Why were we teaching our children to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven? Jesus seemed to be telling us to pray for a transformation of this present setup, but the church kept insisting that our job was to get ready to leave this earth at any time. The church’s failure to satisfy my spiritual hunger led me to the conclusion that I could get along just as well without it. Eventually I stopped going.’
That, in effect, is the story of thousands of nonchurchgoers. It happens that in all parts of the world a great many individuals who stay away from church for such reasons have an unexpected blessing that further changes their way of life. In substance, this is what happens, as it might be related by one who experienced it:
‘One Sunday morning I was lingering after a late breakfast when a young man came to our door with a Bible in hand. He was one of those people our church used to warn us about—the zealous ones with the “absurd” doctrine. Not wanting to be rude, I made an effort to listen. “God put man on earth to live forever,” he said, “conditioned on man’s obedience. Adam’s fall brought death to all of us, but it did not change Jehovah’s purpose to have a paradise earth. Jesus’ model prayer tells us to pray for God’s Kingdom government to smash this wicked world and bring the paradise to reality. Wars, tears and death shall pass away and God will make all things new. This is the good news Jehovah’s witnesses are taking to the ends of the earth, in harmony with Matthew 24:14.” He proved his points by turning to Genesis 1:28; Daniel 2:44; 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:4, 5. I invited him in.
‘I peppered him with questions, and each time I received a Scriptural answer. He informed me that the Trinity was a pagan doctrine that is flatly contradicted by such scriptures as John 14:28 and; 1 Corinthians 11:3, among others. “Man is a soul,” he said, “and the Bible proves that the soul dies.” (He turned to Ezekiel 18:4, Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10 and James 5:20.) “Since the soul dies, God has offered us a resurrection in his new world of righteousness. Everlasting life is something we must seek; we are not born with it.”—John 17:3.
‘In succeeding visits this young minister answered Bible questions that had puzzled me for years. Rain or shine, he always kept his appointments and I always learned something interesting and valuable. I began to see that true Christianity is still God-centered, not self-centered. It still has news to broadcast to the world, instead of platitudes about success and peace at any price. True Christianity still demands virtue and faith demonstrated by works. There is still a witness to be given and God is using men, women and children to do it, just as he did 1,900 years ago. Now, as then, none of them are paid to do it; they dedicate themselves to doing God’s will out of love. And this love keeps them at unity with the association of brothers the world over. All this I have heard and seen among Jehovah’s witnesses. You can see it for yourself at their Kingdom Halls.
‘Next Sunday I will visit some of my former church associates, not at the church, but at their homes. Lots of them will be staying away from church, just as I did, in need of something better. It will be a pleasure to show them how to find it right in the Bible. This I will do, if Jehovah permits, because now I am one of Jehovah’s witnesses.’