Church People are the Reason People Do Not Come to Church

As the Emerging Spirit project winds down I have been re-visiting some of the early research findings that we probably did not mine extensively enough. We abbreviated them to the sentence “People outside the church find religious people to be judgemental, arrogant and unwilling to listen.” We later tacked on that they also find much of what happens in church to be boring and irrelevant to their life.

It is important to note that this is not a mis-understanding or a media creation but is almost always based on personal experience.

At the Stepping Further Out event held at Highlands United Church, Vancouver, on November 6th, 2010 I played the video “Judged” to emphasize that many still experience judgement from church people.

In discussion following the presentation the question was raised as to which sentiment was more powerful to people on the West Coast – church as judgemental or church as boring. What a choice! Many may experience the church as irrelevant but for those who have been wounded by church people that pain continues to vibrate.

It is interesting that a church in Texas, Christ Covenant Church, is engaging this reality head on, made public confession and is now turning it into an outreach opportunity, called “What a Bunch of jerks!”

When you click on the Jerks banner you get text that includes this:

The church has failed. That’s right; we’ve messed up, big time.  The church was SUPPOSED to be a reflection of the God it claimed to serve.  The church was SUPPOSED to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.  But, for the most part, the church has failed.
Our failure has left a bad taste in people’s mouths.  Our mistakes have led to a lack of credibility.  Our messes have caused people to seek answers for this life elsewhere.  And really, who could blame people for giving up on the church?  Gandhi had a very good point when he said “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
What a bunch of jerks.  Prideful, hypocritical, selfish, judgmental jerks.
At Christ Covenant Church, do you know what our response is?  Guilty as charged.

The church then goes on to invite people into a four week conversation exploring the virtues of Jesus that the church has overlooked.

Besides being good marketing, there feels like wisdom there somewhere.

For congregations job 1 is to Live like Christians. For leaders, the task is to lead a change in congregational culture. This is the biggest and the toughest piece of work facing United Church of Canada leaders.

From a US point of view, you might also want to sneak a peek at Adam Hamilton’s book, When Christians Get it Wrong.


  1. Do the levels of Judgement vary from denomination or do you experience this uniformly throughout? I remember my folks taking some heat for choosing hockey if there was a conflict on Sunday mornings. Can only imagine if the issues were really polarizing!!
    My question is this: do you think this perception of Judgement ultimately originates from the top down? Do Christians judge as a result of the atmosphere at the church or do we judge so we can appear more”God like”? Not sure if it is the Christians at the street level or what they believe in…

    1. HI Craig: Good questions!
      Since I’ve put up the post, I’ve begun to wonder a number of things: is the tone and fact of judgment more pronounced in certain parts of the country than others? And does it have different targets?
      In the United Church now, we have a different list than those of our evangelical cousins. We might not give off the same vibe about homosexuality as some other Christians but our body language often has a lot to say about what evangelicals might consider matters of taste – clothing (hats in church on teenage boys); arrangement of the sanctuary; music styles; use of video in worship, etc. And, of course, we are very judgmental about those Christian cousins who are judgemental! (Always reminds me of the quip about arrogance – arrogant people really annoy those of us who simply know how things should be done! 🙂 )
      The question about hockey/soccer is a good one. I know it annoys the heck out of some clergy colleagues – “who knows who will show up?” – but I’m not sure it carries judgment (although the parents may not feel that way) in the United Church.
      Re the question of the spiritual root of judgment, another great comment.
      In the United Church my guess is that we aren’t judgmental because we think it will make us appear more godlike. Often we don’t even know or acknowledge our judgment. I think most often it is cultural – as a matter of taste – or a matter of the culture of a congregation.
      I’d be interested for others to weigh in.

  2. keith I am really thinking about this one. It is making me squirm a bit….. especially the part about united church being judgemental about our judgemental cousins. yup that is me. I do find some “Christians” a bit hard to be around because they are so “good”. I will think on this for sure. thanks for writing.

  3. I think that God should be the only one to Judge, because he is perfection. It reminds me of when Jesus spoke of the tax collector and the Pharisee(Luke18:10-13) We know that when the tax collector who humbles himself before God is the one who is forgiven,not the Pharisee. There’s many out there who are full of wisdom, knowledge, gifts of the spirit and more. They are the ones who should help lead us in the right direction giving us encouragement,support, provide us with all that we need as Jesus would do. But some of these people look down upon us,judge us,mock us and in this even sometimes causing us to sin. When this is done, it is done against Christ and therefore they have sinned. I think it was the Apostle Paul that said when anyone thinks that they are something great, they are deceiving themselves. This has happened to me before,God revealed it and lead me to repentance. When we show and truly give our love to one another, we are proving that we are Jesus deciples. We should build each other up, encourage, love, support each other in every possible way that we can. When someone curses us, we’ll bless them, when we are persecuted,we will endure it and no matter how bad someone causes you to suffer and to become heart broken, forgive them. Humble yourself like the tax collector before God, ask for them with all your heart to be forgiven,for he is the one who searches hearts and minds. He will lift you up, fill you with his love and overflow you with his presence. Having fellowship with God himself is more important then anything, praying the spirit(speaking in tongues) will help you get closer to our father and full of his presence. I am trying to do half an hour to an hour a day, it’s be very helpful to me in overcoming temptation as well as getting closer to him. When you pray in the spirit you: pray in the mind of God, pray in the will of God and pray in the protection of God. After all, who knows God better then his own spirit? Many people don’t know what to pray for, what to ask for and how to do it, thank the Lord for the Holy Spirit because he does it for us. Keep your heads held up high brothers,sisters and mothers for our salvation is here,let know one take away your crown and know that God is here for us, forever and ever amen. God bless you all in Jesus name!

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