JOHN PEARRELL: Church must risk change if we are to reach those not attending

I recently received a very alarming statistic. In a 10-mile radius from our church, I am told by researchers that 80 percent of the populace does not attend church on any given Sunday. Does that number surprise you? It did me.

Hearing that number, we in the church can have one of two reactions. The first and most common reaction we have is, "Well, just goes to show you that people are not interested in the church anymore." Please bear with me, but that was the lie for which I settled for a while; it was a whole lot easier than facing the truth, though certainly not productive.

As long as I could convince myself that people are not interested in church, the problem becomes theirs and I don't have any responsibility other than to just keep on keeping on, doing the same old things, getting the same old results, and consoling myself with the thought, "Well, Paul said that this day would someday come." (See, I even have a chapter and verse to justify the lie I was telling myself.)

It took a visit to my son's church, Buckhead Church, for my blinders to be removed. What I saw at Buckhead Church were literally thousands of people pouring into the church. Hit with that reality, I had to face the truth: it is not that people are uninterested in the church, it is that we have made church uninteresting.

Now, it's on me; I have to take the blame not place the blame. So you see why I said above it is far easier to believe the lie than it is to face the truth.

It gets worse: if I face the truth, if I am honest and if I am as concerned as I think I am, I have to do something about it. I have to risk change. Change is never easy. There is a certain comfort in the familiar, and church people understand this above all others.

That's why we cling tenaciously to songs that were written centuries ago. We call it sacred music and we certainly treat it as if it were sacred. Let somebody start messing with that and suddenly their commitment to the things of Christ are called into question.

We conveniently forget that many of those beloved hymns were one time popular bar room tunes that men like Martin Luther and Charles Wesley borrowed, put new words to, and then sang in their churches to the shock of many of those in attendance. I can hear the arguments now, "How dare these men move away from the Psaltery and introduce modern tunes to our churches. Unheard of. Unthinkable. Why it borders on heresy!"

Not much has changed over the years. Trying to bring change to one of the most change-resistant institutions in our world is not for the faint of heart.

All that said, let me challenge our pastors and our churches: isn't it time we woke up and smelled the coffee? It is not that people are uninterested; it is that we are uninteresting.

My experience in church indicates to me that for the most part we in the church fall in love with programs and certain formats, then we institutionalize them and we judge our success on how many of the sacred activities we perform each year without real consideration as to whether or not those activities are really effective.

I hate to be the one to break the news, but 80 percent non-involvement seems to be a pretty good indicator to me that something may be wrong with our current approaches to "doing church."

More on this important subject in my next column.

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.