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.