This is the final piece of our three-part series on The Average Church. In PART ONE we zoomed in on average church beliefs and detailed the source of these statistics. Be sure to read (or reread) it if you missed it. In sum, we discovered that a full 1/3 of church goers believe salvation can be earned, nearly 1/3 believe God is impersonal, and over half do not believe in the authority of the Bible. In PART TWO we looked at the average practices of church-goers.
Today let’s look at the actions of the average church-goer. Actions are the visible manifestation of our beliefs, our character, and our training. Sometimes they surprise us, popping-up onto the screen of our lives remind us that we aren’t as mature as we thought, or perhaps that we are more so. Over the past 100+ years, American Christians have become so infatuated with theological beliefs that action and application have been neglected. It’s not that theology isn’t important, but when theological convictions don’t lead to actions then both our lives and our witness suffer.
The failure of Christians to visibly act out their faith is a key reason why many are leaving the church. In fact, if you ask Americans how important church involvement is, you’ll get very different answers. Boomers (68+) are twice as likely to say it’s important as compared to Millenials (< 30). Millennials tend to steer clear of the church for three equally weighted reasons, irrelevance, hypocrisy, and moral failures of its leaders.* In other words, since church involvement doesn’t change a person’s behavior then involvement doesn’t matter.
The fallout isn’t hard to trace. When Jesus followers behave the same as everyone else, then others think they’re the same. If they’re the same then Jesus didn’t changed them. If Jesus didn’t change them, then others believe He can't change them either. If He’s not the answer to my real-life problems then He’s also not relevant to my life and may just be a made up character.
In other words, if Jesus is who we say He is then our lives should display an observable difference not only in what we believe but also in what we do. So, to what degree is the average church-attender acting on some key beliefs?
Before we look at the numbers, I want to acknowledge that these numbers leave a lot of room for interpretation. Engaging the questions that come up around these statistics can be very helpful if they lead us to action. In fact, as I’ve reflected on them, I believe they tell both a positive and a negative story. With that in mind, let’s check out the following REVEAL database averages:
1. Evangelism (6+ Spiritual Conversations with Non-Christians in the Past Year) –21%
Though Scripture clearly teaches us to share our faith (Matt 4:19, 28:18-20, Luke 6:40), very few do. This measurement is a very low bar. Unfortunately developing relationships with non-Christians is something that the church is not doing well.
2. Serving Those in Need Through the Church (1-2 times per month or more) –25%
In churches, service opportunities are abundant. Barely one in four participates with any regularity. This indicates to me that most opportunities are relationally-driven not system-driven. It matters.
3. Serving Those in Need On My Own (1-2 times per month or more) –39%
I’m encouraged that this number is higher than the previous one. It shows both ownership and initiative. Again, are they serving relationally or through a system other than the church? Serving through systems is the norm, but serving relationally promotes lasting growth.
Despite my comments so far, there are two stories here. The first story is one of inaction. The second story is one of hope.
Even with the low percentage, when you consider that 21% of the estimated 63 million American church goers are talking about faith with non-Christians, that’s over 13 million! And more than, 15 million serve people in need through their church at least monthly. While nearly 25 million serve people in need at least once a month! That’s a lot of serving and a lot of conversing!
Clearly many church-goers are acting out their faith, but many more are not. The challenge for each pastor, church, and believer is to model the difference Christ makes so that others can be meaningfully changed by Him. Since He is the one who satisfies us, transforms us, prompts us to act, and to go disciple others, the best way to help others is to connect them to Jesus.
Looking back on this series, it’s clear that there’s a lot of work to do in our individual lives and churches. If you’re a pastor do you have what you need to make disciples not just members? If you’re a church leader, would you like to see a culture of disciple making formed in your church? Whether you’re in Dayton, Ohio or in another state I’d love to help you. Contact me HERE.