Why do people go to church? Hint: They Actually Like the Nerdy Stuff

One of my former pastors used to occasionally stop partway through his sermon, hold his hand up,  and say "Nerd Alert!" before talking about something academic. He was pretending to warn us of something potentially uninteresting - something only nerds would appreciate. It was funny because we actually were a bunch of nerds and far from warning us away, those announcements actually made us sit up and listen
more closely to what he was about to say. I think however, that what was simply a joke in our congregation is actually taken seriously in many churches that are trying to be more appealing and attract new members.
Over the last year or so there have been a lot of articles about declining membership in churches. Churches that are struggling, find themselves in a reflective mood as they prepare to make the necessary changes for survival, asking questions like: why don't people like coming to church? What do we need to change? How can we get people to come? Yet, when church leaders start talking about growth strategies, it seems like they always come back to the same old things.
  • Worship Style
  • Name Change
  • Lose the Christian jargon.
  • Start New Program
A recent Gallup Survey decided to actually ask people why they go to church though, and the results were surprising.
  1. The number one reason people go to church was to learn more about the scriptures. (76%)
  2. The number two reason, was to hear Sermons and Lectures that help connect religion to daily life. (75%)
Music, which is usually the first thing leaders consider changing to attract
new members actually came in last on the list of reasons people go to church. 61% said it was only a minor factor - or none at all.

What does this mean?  Personally, I think it means we don't give people enough credit, as spiritual seekers. We strip our speech of jargon, we focus our preaching on the familiar, we give people music that lacks theological depth and a connection to history. We do all of this when what people actually want, as Karl Barth says, to hear the Word of God and not the word of Man. Substance really needs to come before image. We have one unique thing to offer people and that is Jesus Christ. We need to lead with what we alone have to offer.

I think the best thing a church can do for its long term survival is improve its teaching, get people excited about it, make it freely available online, talk about Jesus and the Gospels in ways that people can learn to imitate. If you want to go contemporary. I suspect most church boards would dismiss my advice as "idealistic".  But the results of this study suggest otherwise. People actually LIKE the nerdy stuff.

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