Many Christians feel they can go it alone regarding religion or religious attendance. They regularly and vigorously express these sentiments to me when commenting about my Church Visits articles or in response to my blog posts. It's a national trend. Regardless of specific reasons or excuses, those expressing their disaffection quickly point out they reject corporate worship, organized religion and can worship by themselves at home or wherever. Many, however, still hold to their Christian beliefs.
It's important to distinguish between excuses and reasons. Merriam-Webster defines excuse as "something offered as justification or as grounds for being excused," while defining reason as "a sufficient ground of explanation or of logical defense." Excuses are often offered as a way of making oneself feel better about not doing something, while reasons are used to explain, logically, why a course of action was pursued.
In the business world, working with decision-support system data, I often told my clients, there are "good sounding reasons" and "good sound reasons." My mind likens good sounding to excuses and good sound to reasons.
A local pastor friend recently named the top three excuses or reasons parishioners give him for not attending church.
1. We're so busy; our life is so full.
2. Our kids have a sports conflict.
3. It's Alaska. We're going to the cabin, fishing, hunting, boating or playing in the snow. (Choose all that apply.)
Another local pastor named his top three: too busy, not into organized religion and a previous bad experience with church. There's no order to my list of 10 excuses below.
I have to get my life together first: This excuse is used as a means of covering for a person's perceived inadequacy until he or she is finally better. Group religious practice is one of the means, not stumbling blocks, allowing this to happen.
I feel church members are all just hypocrites: A hypocrite is someone who says one thing but does another. It's a human trait most of us tend toward. Church attendance can provide a mirror to recognize and effectively deal with it.
I think all churches care about is my money: If more churches were open and honest about this, money would not be as much of an issue. It's often more a matter of perception than reality. Your presence in the church can be a force to address it.
I can't measure up to church's dress codes: Concerns about how any church dresses should never be an issue. Wear what you have and be proud of it. I've never seen or heard of any Anchorage churches with dress codes.
I get nervous about going to church: Nervousness can be due to bad experiences with a church, low self-esteem, performance anxiety, or many other issues. Almost everyone can be made to feel nervous about anything. When I started flying lessons, I was extremely nervous until I became more knowledgeable and ultimately confident.
What a church believes may differ from my personal beliefs: Belonging is an important benefit of attending church. Your beliefs will resolve themselves, but belonging is a very important part of religious experience. Corporate belonging was a very important characteristic of the early Christian church.
I work Sunday so can't attend: Many individuals or couples get discouraged when one has to work on Sunday. However, a vast number of Anchorage churches offer Saturday evening or Sunday evening services to fit busy schedules.
If you knew my past, you wouldn't want me in your church: Church offers the tools to resolve the issues in ones past. It's like a hospital. Hospitals are for people who are sick or have something wrong with them. Churches are like hospitals for those needing spiritual care, which includes us all.
It's rainy, snowy, icy, too hot, or too cold: Believe it or not, weather is often given as a reason for not going to church. One pastor observed that, given the way the church year splits into weather increments, only two days fall into churchgoing; Christmas and Easter.
I've been hurt by the church or its clergy: This has no limits as many have been wounded in many ways. It's a top reason for skipping church. However, 1 Peter 3:9 offers an infallible remedy.
A generational and cultural divide is also affecting church attendance. In the 1960s, a shift away from the "we" generation to the "me" generation began. In 2012, the American Psychology Association published a fascinating study, "Generational Differences in Young Adults' Life Goals, Concern for Others, and Civic Orientation, 1966-2009." The study results indicate Millennials are the "Generation Me" instead of the "Generation We."
A huge issue for the church today, it may explain why Millennials are so hard to reach. It's all about them, with little room in their lives for church, God, grace and the love of Jesus. The bible notes this spiritual condition many times. Some label this condition narcissism.
A 2009 Pew Forum survey ranked Alaska next to the bottom (37 percent) regarding the importance of religion, bottom for church attendance, and almost bottom for frequency of prayer and belief in God. Prayer, bible study, and church attendance well may be antidotes for these trends.
Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits, at adn.com/churchvisits.
By CHRIS THOMPSON