According to Pew Research 80 percent of Americans believe in God. They may not agree on theology, or church practices, but they believe in a higher power. At the same time many stats point to how church attendance is decreasing. It seems Americans are leaving the church, but not God.
The question I’m wrestling with is why? Why are believers leaving church but not faith? I’m sure there are many reasons, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s an age old problem.
As humans we often put unrealistic and unhealthy expectations on things or people. When an expectation is unmet it leads to hurt. As humans we are built to avoid pain and seek comfort. When the church doesn’t meet a person’s expectations it can be easy to give up on the church. The thought is, “I can just do this at home.”
Many treat church the same way as rental car insurance…it’s optional.
With the rise of podcasts, and online sermons the pull to attend a service is shrinking. The thought is, “Why go on Sunday when I can have instant access to content any time I want?” Not only that we have access to the Bible ourselves. At one point in history a person had to attend church to learn about the Bible. Today you can pull up a Bible on your phone, and then Google any questions you have about it.
Famed theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer elegantly called these unrealistic expectations, the “Wish Dream.” In his book “Life Together”, Bonhoeffer says, “Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”
His point is that unrealistic expectations destroy genuine community. When we expect a pastor to be at our beck and call, it is a wish dream.
When we expect for “church people” to be perfect, it is a wish dream.
When we expect to agree with everyone it is a wish dream.
The wish dream destroys true community because we complain about what we don’t like instead of plugging into what is right.
I fear many have unhealthy expectations about the church. It’s not perfect. There are issues in every church. There are annoying people. There are people who think differently. There are people in every church that you will not agree with. Instead of having true community many have left it because it’s easier to worship God at home.
The problem is that God did not wire us to be alone. We are truly better together. It’s in community that we grow, are challenged, stretched, and inspired to truly live for Jesus. It’s messy, difficult, and at times frustrating…but it’s so worth it.
God works within community. Sure you can believe in God and not go to church. You can also play sports by yourself, talk to yourself, and high five yourself. Just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s better.
Life is meant to live with others in community. If you have given up on church, but not on God take a moment to revisit your “wish dream.” We all have one or have had one. Then ask God He wants you to do next. My guess is He’ll point you back to the church.