Church: A Four-Letter Word

The other day I was talking with this friend of mine. This individual knows what I do for a living; they know I’m a preacher and that I work at a church here in town. My friend doesn’t go to church, but they’ve commented before that they’ve seen me on TV when I fill in for Gary on his TV program. Anyway, I was talking to this person and we started talking about travel. I mentioned that we had just gone to the beach for the weekend and over the course of our conversation, I also mentioned the fact that I had visited Honduras last summer as part of a mission trip with our church. At the mere mention of the word “church”, my friend actually winced as if the word itself was causing pain. My friend’s nose scrunched up, their eyebrow furrowed, and they got this snarly kind of look on their face. I wasn’t trying to make some sort of statement or initiate an overtly spiritual conversation; it’s just that church is such a part of my life that I don’t think much about mentioning it. But after I dropped the “c word”, the tone of our conversation was noticeably different. We exchanged a few more pleasantries, but my friend quickly disengaged from the conversation.

All of this reminds me that, for some people, “church” is very much a four-letter word. I started wondering about why my friend doesn’t go to church each Sunday. I’m willing to bet they’ve had a bad experience somewhere along the way. Maybe they were ostracized by a church years ago. Maybe they were turned off by some of the hypocrisy they saw there. Maybe they just don’t believe, don’t’ see the need to go through the motions. Whatever the case, the very mention of the word invoked a pretty strong reaction from my friend.


In the 2007 book unChristian authors Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons note that when it comes to the emerging generation, Christianity has an image problem. After researching thousands of sixteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds, the predominant descriptions of the contemporary church in America were hardly flattering. The terms “hypocritical”, “judgmental”, and “insensitive” are far and away the primary impressions young Americans have of Christianity today. Is it any wonder why the word “church” invokes such a strong reaction from people today? I guess that’s why some churches have even dropped the word “church” from their name. Instead, we have the “Praise Power Complex” and the “Family Worship Center”. Again, for some, church has become a four letter word.

Which reminds me that we have a lot of work to do.

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6 Responses to Church: A Four-Letter Word

  1. TARA says:

    We just finished a Wed night class with a group of atheists at our church. The format of the class was not to ram our religion down their throats, but to find out more about them. They actually knew a lot about the Bible. Last night was the last class and some of them are going to keep coming just because of the loving way they were treated. I don’t know if the CofC will ever recover from the 50’s-60’s attitude that we are better than everyone else, and the only ones going to heaven. That wrecked our PR record. And it sure makes our job harder.Your friend probably does have sour grapes regarding church. There would be more common ground if the unchurched could see that Christians are forgiven for their imperfections and we weren’t viewed as hypocrites when we stumble.

  2. Jason says:

    Tara,That sounds like an interesting class. We have a class here that meets off-site at a coffee house on Sunday mornings. A few atheists have been visiting for a few months and the class members tell me the same thing; the atheists know the Bible very well and they are always respectful and kind when they engage in the conversation. I’m hoping the dialogue that comes out of that class can continue to be fruitful and respectful.And I think you’re also right in your assessment of our brotherhood. A little bit of humility goes a long way.

  3. chesley says:

    I was just going to comment about the same class. It was very interesting. The atheists were so knowledgable about the Bible..much more so than me. The discussion last week actually spawned from the book you mentioned and the top 6 or 7 things that come to mind when Christians are mentioned to them.

  4. Jason says:

    Chesley,Thanks for stopping by. I wish I could’ve been a part of that class. I’m just thankful that College Hills took the initiative to start that kind of conversation with those in the community. A lot of times, the world views us as a group of people who are simply content to sit in our big church buildings and pretend to be pious. The fact that you all invited some “outsiders” into the fold for conversation is a step in the right direction, in my opinion.

  5. -Lane says:

    I was filling in for our pulpit minister the last Wednesday night for his class, and the discussion was based on I John 4, the section on God is Love. Someone brought up that we as a church (churches of Christ) aren’t very good at demonstrating love to each other, or to other churches.I had an older gentleman proceed to tell the class that we aren’t supposed to love other churches. We shouldn’t love them because they’re not “teaching the truth”. So, yes, we do have a few who tend to be judgmental and insensitive.

  6. Jason says:

    I’ve had a similar experience in a class where we discussed whether or not we are called to love terrorists or Muslims or murderers or…on and on the conversation went. I think conversations like this demonstrate the conditional nature of our love. But the Gospel compels us to be controlled by the love of Christ (2 Cor. 5:14). When that happens, we no longer regard anyone according to the flesh (5:16). We view all people as image bearers of God and, as such, they are worthy of His love. And ours.

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