Why So Many “Dones” And “Nones”?

As I came out of the bookstore, I had one thought in mind, “I wish I was dead!” The thought of death was the most soothing thought I had had since I’d started college.

The year was 1971 and after two semesters of college, it was obvious that getting a degree in civil engineering, something that had brought me to the US, was not going to be that easy.

In two semesters, I’d gotten nothing but lousy grades, which had made me quite ashamed of being the failure that I’d become. But even more painful was letting down my parents, who had made a great sacrifice to get their oldest to America. So, not being able to live up to a standard that my Iranian culture had set before me, my next step was committing suicide. But that day, as I came out of the school’s bookstore something happened that gave me a glimmer of hope.

As I stepped out the door, with the weight of the whole world on my shoulders and my head bowed down, the guy coming towards me was dancing and scat singing. As he got next to me, he looked me in the eyes and asked, “How are you?”

imageedit_2_2122402828Never being one who hides his emotions, but at the same time not expecting anything, I said, “I’m not doing well.”

What happened next, as simple as it might sound to some of my readers, was something that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.

The man stopped dead in his track and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” A stranger, a man I didn’t know stopped and offered to help me. I needed that so much. I deeply wanted to know that someone cared about this worthless failure of a man.

I don’t remember what happened next. I might have said, “No, thanks! And went on my way” But I still remember that act of kindness, and try to implement it in my Christian walk whenever I can.

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I’m invited to fill in for my friend who is an adjunct professor at a Bible college. As it is my habit, I show up early. Because it was lunchtime, I sit on the retaining wall next to the entrance to the refectory (Whatever happened to the dining hall?). I want to see how the students react towards a stranger who is much older than they are and seems not to belong to their school.

As these Bible college students, our future Christian leaders, begin to pass by me, I stare at them in hope of,

  1. Out of respect for an elder, they would greet me, and
  2. At least by smiling at me, acknowledge me as a man who is made in the image of the God that they would be studying right after lunch.

Out of about 100 students who pass me by, only a few of them acknowledge my being and give me a hurried glance. That breaks my heart. Don’t they realize that I might desperately be in need of a smile, a “how are you?” an affirmation that I am still a human being made in the image of God?

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A day doesn’t go by that I don’t come across of an article about the “Dones” (The believers who’ve left the church) and the “Nones” (The nominal Christians who’ve left the church), lamenting the fact that church attendance is drastically dropping in the US.

Many of these articles sound like Chicken Little running around and screaming, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling. People are leaving the church. What can we do to bring them back? Maybe if the church offers better programs, then people will stay and the ’Dones’ will come back and the “Nones’ will be attracted to the church.” But very few talk about why these people have left and why the Millennials are not going to church.

The issue isn’t having better programs. The issue isn’t having strobe lights and fog machines or having the music so loud that you need to hand out earplugs to the parishioners as they enter the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. I personally have no problems with any of that. But that will not solve some of the much deeper issues the church needs to face and resolve.

To think that better programs will solve the crisis the church is facing is like the old joke about a man who had 3 ugly daughters (Upon reading the word “ugly”, I wonder how many of my young readers needed to retreat to their safe spaces while clinging to their teddy bears?). One day as he’s walking on the beach, the man comes across a bottle and when he opens it a genie pops out.

“For freeing me from this prison, I’ll grant you a wish. What is it that you want?” said the genie.

Showing genie a map, the man said, “ I love Hawaii, but it’s quite expensive to travel there several times a year. I want a bridge over the ocean that will directly connect LA to Hawaii.”

The genie looked at the map and said, “I’m just a genie, not God. What you’re asking is out of my hands. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Yes! I wish for my daughters to be married. Can you find them husbands?” pleaded the man.

“Do you have a picture of them?”

So, the man excitedly pulled a photo out of his wallet and showed it to the genie upon looking at it, the genie said, “Let me see the map again!”

There’s a broken bridge between the church and the people. Until we rebuild that bridge; until we learn to smile at the old man sitting on the retaining wall rather than being too busy parsing Hebrew and Greek words for our next Sunday sermon on how to love people, until we learn our neighbor’s name who’s lived next to us for several years, until we acknowledge the fact that we’re all made in the image of God and should be treated as such, and until the church learns to love for no reason, but to obey Christ’s commandment, she will continue to be as unattractive as the above three daughters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not At My Church!

The name of my organization is Shahzam Factor…Seeing church different. The tagline has to do with something I have begged the American church to do for over 30 years, CHANGE. The following article is about that very subject. It’s written by my friend CK who, from time to time, will be doing guest appearance on this blog.                                                                                             Shah
                                                                                                         
Why is it so difficult for us to realize the need for change? From churches and businesses, to non-profit organizations and even families, so often we fail to see the need for change. It seems that we so often need to come to the brink of disaster before we come to terms that if we don’t change, our organization, our relationship, or our church will fail.
As I have researched “change” in my graduate studies the past two years, it has struck me how difficult change is for people, people in some of the most successful companies, people throughout history, even people in the Bible. Let me give you a couple of examples.
World Class Medical Center Nearly Closes
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts is one of the leading hospitals in the world. The quality of this institution is due in part to the long standing and coveted relationship with Harvard University. Many of the doctors who practice and teach at the medical center also teach at Harvard. However, this institution nearly closed. For years, the medical center was losing money. During this time, several CEOs hired reputable consulting firms to determine why the medical center was consistently losing money. Report after report was submitted to the executives, board of directors, and the chief medical staff. Yet nothing changed and the medical center continued to lose money. It wasn’t until Paul Levy was appointed CEO in 2002 that things changed.
In Levy’s first few months on the job, he faced the fact that the medical center was nearly bankrupt, and that the governor and city officials were planning to take possession of the institution. But Levy had a plan to revamp operations and was able to convince the governor to delay the closure for six months. Confronted with the fact that they were about to lose everything, the medical center’s executives, board of directors, medical staff, and employees finally saw the need for change and made some tough decisions. Over those six months, Levy spent a great deal of his time explaining what needed to change—from leasing space on the expansive campus, and cutting jobs, to refining operations, and restructuring the medical staff and board of directors. He also communicated how the changes would take place and secured the support of everyone involved. His plan worked. Today, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is going strong.
Resistance to Change in the Bible
The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, can be seen as a book about people who resisted change. Prophet after prophet warned the Israelites to change their ways otherwise judgment would come. But they didn’t and judgment did come—they were captured and displaced. In the New Testament, Jesus proclaimed the message of peace, love, and reconciliation to God. He performed the most powerful act of love, ever. Yet, people who heard his message and saw miracles did not believe him or change how they lived their lives. For more than 2,000 years millions of people who have heard the gospel refused to repent, to believe, to love, to receive grace, and to see the need to change their lives.
Any believer, who has evangelized, especially pastors, would probably understand how difficult it is for people to change their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. However, believers, especially pastors, are the very people, who need to realize the need for change. Modern-day prophets—the statisticians and researchers—are sounding the warnings. The Hartford Institute of Religion Research estimates fewer than 20% of Americans actually attend church every Sunday, more than 4,000 churches shut down every year, and between 2010 and 2012 less than half of churches added any new members. In June 2014, CharismaNews published an article by Ed Stetzer, examining trends, which paint a picture of a dwindling church. In their book, “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore”, Joani and Thom Schultz show how church membership is declining and why. Research conducted by Steve McSwain, author and consultant, was published on Huffington Post showing statistics that the church is in decline across different denominations.
Are we going to be like the Israelites and ignore the prophets? Will church leaders be like the doctors at Beth Israel Medical Center and disregard the research only to say “Not at my church”? Are you going to be like those whom you have shared the Gospel with and yet, never saw the need to change? We have passed post-modernism and entered a new age when EVERYTHING is changing. Right or wrong, People who were once employed are becoming free-agents; schools are shifting from teacher-centered instruction to student-centered learning; established industries are being threatened by new business models; social media has changed how people communicate and the list goes on. With all of the research showing that church attendance is declining, and every aspect of society changing, are you able to see a need for change in the church?

                                                                                                                    By CK Miller, guest blogger