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How Americans View The Church

The phrase “Perception is reality” is generally attributed to a controversial political consultant back in the 1980s.

That alone sheds some light on the sentiment! And while not true in an objective sense, to the person who sees something in a particular way, that is their reality.

Remember the black-and-blue or white-and-gold dress meme?

So while the Wall Street Journal recently published an op-ed saying that religion is not in dire straits as much as we might think, a graph from Gallup caught my eye:

The American view of the institutional Church isn’t pretty. If the stockholders of XYZ Company suddenly saw a graph like that, you could say goodbye to the CEO, the current corporate strategies, and prepare for a board coup.

Or how about this analogy: if your surgeon published a “confidence graph” like that prior to your bypass surgery, what would you do?

So even if the Church is not in as bad of shape as some think, the way it is perceived is apparently not so great, to put it mildly. And if the average American has a pained view of the Church because of a proverbial splinter in their eye—e.g., poor perception—perhaps the two-by-four in our eyes is blocking us from even seeing the problem. Or worse, we’re in denial.

And don’t think it’s all about the “outsiders” view. In a recent Barna poll, “42% of pastors are thinking of quitting the ministry” (Barna Group, March 22, 2022).

That’s a high burnout rate for a job that’s considered a high “calling”, that is, a unique invitation from the God of the universe to shepherd his sheep and enfold those outside of the flock. With that kind of churn, it appears we are in deep trouble. In the polarized and politically-charged culture that has infiltrated the local church, the majority of pastors I meet are worn out with the drama.

The way of Jesus is not the way of this world. It will be up to each individual church to visibly express the Sermon on the Mount, modeling humility and servanthood in real and practical ways, bringing the power and healing of the Holy Spirit to bear on broken lives.

If we don’t express the hope and promise of transformation and the beauty of the “beloved community”, I fear the graph can only worsen.

Q: How do you think outsiders view your church?

Dave Workman | Elemental Churches

Postscript: the admitted “dirty tricks” political consultant mentioned above suffered a seizure at age 39, brought on by an aggressive brain cancer. Subsequent surgery left him paralyzed and swollen. He died a year later after apologizing to several political opponents he had attacked. In a final article in Life magazine, he wrote: “My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The 1980s were about acquiring – acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. . . It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime.” (Lee Atwater, Life Magazine, February 1991)


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