Is the Casual Approach to Church Producing Casual Christians?

from Not for Itching Ears by

it's worseIt is worse than it looks!

It doesn’t  matter which study you read about the church, because they all say pretty much the same thing:  The church is in decline.

The church is in trouble.  I don’t need to read a study to know this.  I have observed it over the years in countless churches that I have visited.  Churches are weak and though they may have exciting services, they are largely failing to develop strong, grounded and mature Christians.  The church at large (there are exceptions, of course) is also failing to impact the lost around her.

The statistics on this are over-whelming and should stop every pastor and leader dead in their tracks so that we immediately fall on our knees to cry out to the Lord “What are we doing wrong?”  Sooner or later that will have to happen.  Let’s pray it is the former!

Is This Decline the Result of a Flawed Church Model?

I have a theory.  It goes something like this:  The decline we are seeing in the church is directly related to the causal “Worship”model of doing church.  This model is the most widely used church model in America.  It is the “come as you are, enjoy your coffee while listening to some great music, and catch a short inspiring message that is always relevant for your life whether you believe in Christ or don’t.  We won’t ask anything of you, and we won’t expect anything from you.  Just come!”

Of course, church leaders knew this wasn’t enough to develop faithful followers of Christ.  The idea was that eventually, these causal observers would come to know Christ and their lives would be transformed into on-fire followers of Jesus Christ who would go to the ends of the world for their faith and perhaps even be willing to die for Christ.

That is not what has happened!

In 2009, Barna came out with a book called The Seven Faith Tribes: Who They Are, What They Believe, and Why They Matter.  In the study that preceded the book, Barna discovered that 66% of Americans are what he calls “Casual Christians”. Here is how he defines them:

Casual Christianity is faith in moderation. It allows them to feel religious without having to prioritize their faith. Christianity is a low-risk, predictable proposition for this tribe, providing a faith perspective that is not demanding. A Casual Christian can be all the things that they esteem: a nice human being, a family person, religious, an exemplary citizen, a reliable employee – and never have to publicly defend or represent difficult moral or social positions or even lose much sleep over their private choices as long as they mean well and generally do their best. From their perspective, their brand of faith practice is genuine, realistic and practical. To them, Casual Christianity is the best of all worlds; it encourages them to be a better person than if they had been irreligious, yet it is not a faith into which they feel compelled to heavily invest themselves.

Our churches are full of these exact people.  Don’t misunderstand me, I am glad they come.  Yet, I think most pastors would agree that having a host of casual followers was not what Jesus had in mind when he allowed himself to be nailed to a cross in our place.  Let us be careful not to lay the blame for this on the Casual Christian.  After all, they just took us at our word and took us up on our offer!

When you stop to consider the type of half-way followers that our church models are producing it should make us question the model.  Shouldn’t it?    Think about it:  God invites each one of us to a life of radical transformation:  to become more like Him.  He beckons us to leave the mundane things of this life behind so that we can more and more reflect the true image of God in our own lives.  The early church produced people like this.  Our churches are not!  Instead, well-meaning as we may have been, we have promoted a semi-christian life that may actually be more harmful than helpful.  In a way, we are promoting something that is not real or authentic.  Our church models may even border on being deceptive.  I don’t think this causal christian thing is an accident.  It is the natural product of a poorly designed model.

Before you grab the rope and kindling and Google my address, you should know that I am aware that there are exceptions to this.  You may be one of those people who is faithfully following Christ because you attended a church with this model.  I don’t discount that and my thoughts here are not intended to take anything away from your journey. At the same time, I don’t think church leaders should judge a model by the exceptions.  We should judge it on what it normally produces.  I think it is clear that the church is producing these casual Christians.  That is not fair and it needs to change.

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