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Why Doesn’t Church Work Anymore?

A ViewPoint by Esther Emery

Old Historic ChurchIt seems like everywhere I go people are talking about it.

“The church leadership doesn’t reflect the wider congregation.”

“Everything seems to operate at such a surface level.”

“The givers are exhausted and burnt out and not being fed.”

“Numbers are down.”

Honestly, it’s everybody. On the conservative side we’re bemoaning the passing of a better age. (But then again, aren’t we always?) On the progressive side we’re frustrated out of our minds with the slow pace of change. Or we’re just bored.

It sounds like this on our social networking pages on Saturday nights:

“Are you going to church tomorrow?”
“Oh…I don’t know. I don’t know if I can do it.”
“I have to. I promised I would. But I really don’t want to.”
“I’m taking a break. I just can’t do it anymore.

Why is this happening? Why doesn’t church work anymore?

I can only answer that with another question.

Why don’t our expectations of church work anymore?

I became a Christian during a year without the Internet. True story. I went for a year without the Internet and the only thing I could think of, to meet all those needs that used to be met by my life on the Internet, was church. I went to a church where I hardly agreed with anybody about anything, but I went anyway, and I dug in. For most of a year that church was the core and center of my social life.

Within months of going back on the Internet I was church shopping. True story.

I wonder, sometimes, if our disenchantment with flesh-and-blood church is simply a matter of having access to a profoundly effective and spiritually satisfying alternative.

I wonder if the Internet hasn’t seriously upped the ante.

At real church I spend the sermon hour worrying about how my wild kids are disrupting the life of the congregation. I look up and wonder what the sermon was about. I wonder if the sermon was what I came to church for.

On the web if I want content I just read it. My kids don’t bother anybody or anything.

At real church I look at the backs of people’s heads and wonder what anybody in the room is actually thinking. I daydream about the major life issues and burdens that people aren’t sharing with me, and the major life issues and burdens of my own that nobody is asking me about.

On the web it takes one click to visit Sarah Bessey or Natalie Trust and I drop into deep connection instantly. We are deep-sharing like it’s going out of style.

At real church there’s always a hierarchy of some kind. (Different kinds at different churches, right. But the information flows one way on a one-way street.) Meanwhile, some of us are texting on our laps.

On the web I receive content and react immediately. I tweet about things I don’t like. And things I do like. I comment in places where I want to express my opinion. I ask questions when I don’t understand what somebody means. I am active and fully engaged in my own spiritual search.

Can real church ever compete with this?

Well, honestly, I hope so. I think it should.

I don’t intend to give up the Internet. I have been on my journey to break the addiction to busy and the addiction to dopamine squirts, and I rejoice in the fruits of that personal journey. But I do not reject the digital church. In digital church I see healing happening. I see a flattening of hierarchies that were made up in the first place and have been profoundly destructive. I see people telling the truth. And I see other people listening. I see the opposite, too, but I can carry my traffic wherever I like. And there is church, for me, on the Internet, that works.

I am not ashamed of taking my spiritual search where my heart leads, even if it is to the Internet. And I am not afraid that I will never see human beings again. I am not afraid that this feeling of frustration and chaos in our physical churches is the end of real life community.

I think it’s just the middle of a change.

It may be that here in our online lives, we are creating the models and raising the hopes that will make church work for us again. 




Esther Emery

Esther Emery used to direct stage plays in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. Now she is pretty much a runaway, living off the grid in a yurt and tending to three acres in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life at Connect with her on Twitter @EstherEmery.



© 2014 by Esther Emery and EEWC-Christian Feminism Today


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