This Tuesday I went to a ‘Christian leaders forum’ featuring the title “Changing stats. Shaking the Church.” I did not attend this forum because of the title (I don’t believe anything can shake the Church). I went to nurture relationships. However, I did not mind getting a bit of information about the statistics concerning religion in Canada. For instance, 80% of Canadians say they believe in ‘a God’. This is higher then I expected but 33% of Canadians between 15 – 24 years of age, have never attended a religious service. This presents a great opportunity for the Church. I also learned that Canadians spend 1.63$ for every 1$ they earn (I can hear that train coming, as Johnny Cash sung). In 2011 Canadians spent 1.5 billion dollars on Christmas while in 2010 the median annual, charitable donation was 123$. So there are some stats for you. Some more numbers to ‘think’ about in the ever –flowing stream of information that comes your way.
The problem with statistics are that they only highlight the surface. Statistics can, at best, reveal parts of the problem but can never offer healing. Statistics operate with the assumption that if we can identify the problem rationally then we can also find a rational solution. This is the same method as companies use in their thirst for increased profits. Even though the ‘crises’ of religion is reflected in the stats we must add another dimension to understand this crises, because as you have probably noticed, people are not rational. It is not enough with a ‘market survey’ to grasp the depth of the hole we are in. Actually this very approach to ‘evaluate’ religion or church is part of the problem because it perpetuates the false notion that everything can be weighed, measured and defined by us. After definition is made then we can use our reason to choose in how to act. Right?
We can observe this in how people choose Churches, products and lifestyles over all. The ‘free’ market of preference and individual choice fosters this notion that we are the end-all-and-be-all of ‘our’ universe. We understand our problem hence we can solve it. Parts of the Church Herself have bought into this in trying to ‘attract’ people to Her doors by being culturally ‘relevant’, by using the same methods as the marketplace. “If we can communicate seven impressions of our message to a person that equals one new guest on a Sunday service.” (It does work because we are holistic beings, weare affected by our circumstance and impressions) Or; “If we can emulate contemporary music in our services then people will be able to approach Church.” Or; “If we can offer a solution to the problems people perceive they have then they will come here.” To a great degree this is how the contemporary Church operates. But this is not going to work in the long run. The stats are starting to show this…
In my experience people go to Church because they are looking for something radically other then what they are culturally immersed in. If people where at peace with their life they would not seek the Church out. (And many don’t, but this only reveals the depth of our disillusion). They are tired of the shallow culture of profit, stats and non-committal relationships. They seek real, solid and true relationships and values. They come because they have not been able to solve their problem (be it busyness, relationship crises, poverty, addiction or straight up pain). I’m not saying that the Church shouldn’t go out of Her way to show hospitality but that does not mean that She become the culture She wants to aid because the Church, at Her very core is culture proper and the place where culture/religion is restored. Church (when functioning as God intended) is not a preference for people to choose but the way of life we may enter into. A culture/religion of life as it was intended to be. It is re-born life. And usually this life looks different from the life people are living right now.
Lent teaches us that life begins with us submitting to the Holy Spirit living in the Church. We submit to a rule of life rather than our own preferences. Not because the law will save us but because the law points to the Fulfiller of the law. Life begins by serving others because that gets the focus from us to Christ in someone else. We go from individual preference to communal relations. Let Lent be a period of life when you ask the Holy Spirit what He wants for your life together with the Church, instead of being seduced by the ever -flowing stream of shallow data.