Do you hear regular reports about why people resist coming to Christian faith and why people leave the church?
Numerous anecdotal articles tell us ‘how to prevent them leaving’. I feel so inadequate every time. You too? I recently did a survey on what keeps the faithful to remain faithful. It tells us at our core who we are as church and what we have to offer.
I asked 386 church attenders, from right across Australia, their one sentence responses to the question “Why are you still a Christian?”. We did this once at Carlingford.
Two impressions hit me immediately in the face.
The first is that the answers were highly diverse, almost no two answers the same. That suggests that God has no formula for reaching a person’s heart with the Gospel. It is true – he loves us as we are and works with us as we need to grow his calling upon our particular life. I just love that.
The second is obvious if you were there for the answers. The sharing of their faith in groups in response to this question became very quickly a sharing at heart and not head level. The tone in the room quietened and became energized at the same time. Participants reported that the experience created trust, built relationships, fostered a collective confidence. There was even a measure of relief from the shame of consistent church decline.
Further, when asked to recite together the plenary list of ‘reasons’ in a litany form, the group always expressed that it was a powerful experience. They felt encouragement and unity despite the radical differences. ‘Maybe we have what it takes after all’. And all of that really happened in just 40 minutes! On the other hand, most Christians don’t believe that sort of things about themselves. Only ten percent look for opportunities to share their faith. They have become afraid of ‘bible-bashing’, and they have come to believe that they have nothing to say to the ‘non-religious’. McCrindle summarised part of their 2017 survey thus:
What do those with ‘no religion’ believe? Half of non-religious Australians (49%) say their position on religion is that they prefer a scientific and rational, ‘evidence-based’ approach to life. One in five (18%) think religion is a crutch for the weak to lean on, and a further one in seven (14%) believe that religions and spirituality are outdated and traditional
But my survey shows that even in this context, if we examine Christian belief, we find people who are not closed to the evidence, are acquainted with other religions, able to face the hard parts of life, and have a real faith that is suited to life today. That’s us here too!