Don’t Ask Me About My Church

June 24, 2011

I think I’ve got a new conversation stopper…

Whenever I’ve got a new Christian friend, I’ll just ask them to tell me about their church.

I’ve been in a lot of social situations where someone has asked this very simple question, and the result is usually the same.

For some reason, a lot of people seem to break out into a cold sweat when you ask them about their church.  Then they start rambling like Michael Cera.  They can’t find a place to stop!  They nervously rattle off all kinds of facts that polite chit-chat doesn’t call for.  An equivalent social situation would be asking someone, “How are you today,” and they start with, “Fine,” but they can’t stop nervously elaborating on the word “fine” until they’ve told you about their last bowel movement.

I’m the same way.  Someone asks me about my church, and I suppress the urge to fidget while I nervously blurt out twenty random facts when just one would do.

But we usually aren’t really boasting about our churches, are we?  There’s something much deeper going on.

Choices, Choices, Choices…

People have all kinds of choices to make about how they will spend their time and money.

You wouldn’t get nervous if someone asked you what kind of bread you eat, or what kind of bags you want at the store.  White or wheat.  Paper or plastic.  It’s not a difficult question.

This guy is all-in.

But the more time and money people spend on a product or hobby, the more adamant they become about their choice.  That’s why Apple geeks and videogame fanboys can’t shut up about their product of choice.  That’s why sports fanatics will cheer for a team that happens to play in their geographical area, even when they suck.  Believe me, I know.  I live in a town where both our sports teams haven’t done anything in decades.

There’s a difference between bread and baseball teams, and how loyal people are to each.

You Have Chosen Poorly

But it’s not just that fans of Apple or Nintendo or the Lions are adamant about their choices.  It’s not just that they are proud to support a team or company.

They’re secretly really insecure.

Because we have a lot of choices.  And a lot of people chose not to buy an Apple computer or a Nintendo Wii or cheer for the sucky-suck Lions.

The fact that there are a lot of choices makes people secretly wonder if they made the wrong choice.  Why should people in Detroit support the Lions when there are much better choices?  Every gadget you have is eventually going to look stupid compared to the competition.  There are advantages to other products that you deliberately ignored when you bought a loaf of bread or a phone or a house.  The choice you made probably looks stupid to a lot of other people.

And the idea of looking stupid to others makes people nervous.  People feel their decisions are being judged by others.  Then they get defensive.  They try to convince others why their inferior choice is actually the best choice.

One More Question: What Do You Look Like Naked?

That’s why so many people get nervous when an acquaintance asks about their church.

Most of us don’t go to a mega-church with an amazing spectacle every Sunday.  We don’t go to the “best” churches.  Most of us go to churches that have problems and disadvantages.  There are other churches that were surely a better choice than the one we made.

Religion is the most personal part of us.  It’s a huge investment of time, effort, energy, and money.  So we try to justify to others why we chose what we secretly fear, deep down, is an inferior church.  It’s like being asked what we look like naked.  We’re going to try to make ourselves sound hot, even though we’re certain that we must certainly have more fat, wrinkles, bags and sags than the person asking.

Guess what.

All churches suck at something, or even a lot of things.  Maybe your church is old and crusty, or the sermons are boring or the music is dull, or the lady in the third row smells.  No one cares if your church sucks.  This isn’t high school where you’re ostracized for not liking the right music.

So, out with it.  Tell us one thing that is genuinely bad about a church, or any product you chose, and why you chose it anyway!

I’ll go first.  My church is teeny tiny.  Like, pathetically small.  But everyone knows one another’s names, and when want to get stuff done, it doesn’t have to go through ten committees to do it.

39 responses to Don’t Ask Me About My Church

  1. I personally like to answer any and every question with when my last bowel movement was.

    nicodemusatnite.com
    Charlie Chang recently posted..#299 Baseball in the Garden of Eden

  2. Well, I really don’t like that my church only allows water in the sanctuary. Especially after I realized that it’s not even carpeted!
    Adrian W. recently posted..Wonder

  3. I didn’t choose my church. When my wife and I taught in South Korea at an International Christian School, her home church supported us. Now that we moved back to her neck of the woods, and she has family and we have friends that go there, we continue to attend. I’m not a big fan of the preaching. I would not choose a BBFI church, so that probably has a lot to do with it. However, they support missionaries all over the world, including local ministries like homeless shelters pregnancy centers and prison ministries. It sets a great example for being doers of the word, and I admire that.

  4. My church’s main service is all in Spanish…would be nice to have at least one main service in English…

    I really love my church…a lot…I don’t know if that is corney to say…but I do…don’t see anything wrong with it really…
    Arny recently posted..10 Things I Would Love To See Re-Enactments Of…

    • So, do you attend the Spanish service? What’s the difference between the “main” service and the “English” service? Sounds like you attend a Spanish speaking church that’s reaching out to English speakers. :)

      • The Main service is in Spanish…Then Some Sunday School “Classes” are in English…like the high school and college classes…

        There is NO English Main service….not yet…

        Were are a Full Latino/Hispanic/Spanish church…but in the last 5 years…the high school classes have been in English…

  5. Funny you should ask this week; we have a new pastor at our church whom I met while I was in the building this week. In our conversation, he asked, “What do you think are the problems in this church?” He even retrieved a paper pad and a pen. That was an invitation to a long chat.

    I said a few things but then I said, there are tons of problems and it’s not going to be an easy job for you to navigate through the mire, but I want to tell you what’s right about this church. God loves it and he is working despite the evidence to the contrary.

    Check out my latest blog post, I talk about one of the pervasive negative values my church has adopted as their motto. It’s detrimental to the overall health of the church.
    Andrea York recently posted..You Can’t Wear Short Skirts and then Complain When the Boys Whistle

    • I checked out your post, and I can see what you mean. “Church for people who don’t like church” is well intentioned, but how much can you dress up church? I can cover a frog with ketchup, but it’s still a frog, and I don’t want to eat it.

  6. That question makes me think of the famous interview question “So what are your weaknesses?”

    I would say that my church loves too much. It’s easy for our pastors to get burned out because they love so freaking much it hurts. We don’t have money to fix air conditioner because we spent it all on that homeless outreach last month.

    In essence, we might care too much.

    *takes bow
    Tony Alicea recently posted..Is It Wrong To Imitate Others?

  7. and yet, nothing seems to cut conversations short faster than telling people that you are a pastor for a living.
    Rob recently posted..Is the devil God’s nemesis?

  8. I’m not sure this is a “Church” problem, but more of a “people are the same all over” problem. Since becoming more involved in my Church I have come to notice gossiping. I try to deal with it by saying something positive about the person being spoken of i: ” She may seem brusque, but she was the first person at more door with a casserole when my mom died…” Then I worry that what will get back to her is that I agreed she is brusque. Sigh.
    What do I love about my Church? When mom was sick, and then eventually passed on, they were a wonderful support system. They demonstrated God’s love, and reminded me that He holds her, me, and us in His hands.
    Helen recently posted..Surprised by Our Choices

  9. Matt – you never disappoint, great post! I’m the board treasurer for our church and the biggest problem we have is the physical plant itself.

    Like it or not, first impressions are important. As we’re trying to grow, it’s a challenge to accomplish that when visitors need a wheel realignment after the service because of the moonscape of parking lot potholes.

    Despite that, we love our church because the word and worship are anointed. Living near DC, it’s an incredibly diverse congregation which helps keep our family grounded in the scope of God’s love. To me, our church is worth a regular ball-joint replacement.

    • Thanks, Tor! Interesting problem to deal with. :) I’ve heard of a lot of churches that skimped on something like a parking lot, and paid dearly for it later on.

      • Then there are the years when the National Guard, Corps of Engineers, and FEMA use your church’s parking lot for a staging area for heavy equipment to build & maintain temporary levees in flood season; the town recovers from the flood, but the church parking lot doesn’t.

  10. I’m not attending regularly, but the one I go to sometimes has a good preacher with good sermons. It’s a Pres USA and I struggle with this. The preacher doesn’t tote the party line and has stayed true to the Word. Like that, but scared of the future.

  11. I personally love my church a great deal and don’t mind talking about it, but “Tell me about your church” sounds too much like a lead-in to “Now let me inform you why your church is less anointed/more backsliding/more worldly than mine is.”

    I know that’s not your intention in asking the question, but it might explain why you get so many awkward responses.

    • Exactly! The disadvantage is that you don’t know how awesome the church is of the person asking! We usually assume the other person’s church must be better. If I say we had an elephant in church on Sunday, I’ll probably downplay it because for all I know, the person asking had TEN elephants in church!

      • I think my hang-up is that I’m introverted to such a degree that I won’t even discuss shoe preferences with someone unless we’ve known each other at least 3 months or so. If someone that I was only casually acquainted with asked me about my church, I’d find it incredibly intrusive (and, to be honest, kind of suspicious of their intentions–are they honestly curious or are they trying to convert me?)

        It’s probably just weirdness on my part, but that seems to be the way I’m wired.

  12. I DO go to a mega-church with an amazing spectacle every Sunday, and it still has problems and disadvantages. My main complaint is that the spectacle distracts me from worship, even though it’s designed to do the exact opposite. I feel like a member of the audience, not a member of a family. I actually would love to try a teeny, tiny church for a change.

    We go there anyway because God told us to, and He hasn’t sent us anywhere else yet. He’s teaching us that He works through all sorts of churches. And our new small (“only” 50 or so!) group is helping with the family part.

    I’ve recently written several posts on this topic. I think the bottom line is that a church can’t please everyone, so it’s important to focus on pleasing God.

  13. My church is like going to Jesus’ funeral every week. But the ppl there love me and my family which makes the thought of leaving nauseating. It’s conservative baptist and I’m liberal emergent…It’s old and inward focused, and I’m younger and try to be service focused…in one word my church is difficult.

  14. Wow, I think my main complaint about all the churches I have gone to is the pursuit of dead religion. There is always a stepping off point where their ideas are better than God’s, they think their talent, education or intelligence means that somehow God has approved of what they are doing. It is easy to live by something we think – even if it is in the Bible, and then we miss what God is actually doing. For me, that is why the display of God’s power along with the word of God is so important. If God is responding to prayer, or worship or anything that we do in church, it usually means that we are on the right track.

    The toughest part of the church I am a part of now is that it is an hour’s drive.

    I don’t feel in secure talking about what God has done for me – the rest is personal preference. It is testimonies and the word of God that makes church work. Not sermons and worship music.

  15. Love this post. So smart.

    Since my husband and I recently started a house church network, we are now navigating when(or if) we should mention this to people. They think my husband is the “head pastor” when actually we don’t have one.

    It makes me uncomfortable knowing I’m either going to turn people off, scare people away, or they are going to want to spill their guts to me right then and there.

    • I know exactly where you are coming from. My wife and I are trying to start a house church network as well. People don’t understand the “no head pastor” concept.

      Plus we’re in the buckle of the “Bible Belt”, so not going to a physical church is taboo.

  16. My church has 300ish active members… and it’s almost impossible to get even 50 to show up for a church meeting (even when it has awesome food). It’s even worse to get people to do ministry with you.
    But I love it because it’s multi-racial and multi-generational and learning how to be friendly to people of different socio-economic backgrounds (watching language, attire, price on events, etc). It’s where I learned that God loves us, no matter what we look like, and even when I suck.

  17. I think the preaching at my church is BO-ring. I haven’t stayed for a sermon in months. There is absolutely no need to spend 20 minutes on an overview of the old testament before beginning to preach on Zephaniah. Also, never, under any circumstances, give a 17-point sermon.

    I went because there were people there my age who I could be friends with. Mission accomplished.

  18. The problem with my church is that we’re so small that we only meet together every second Sunday. That kinda sucks, because the people are fantastic, but it does allow us to spend extra time with our families, our neighbours, and general helping out wherever that’s needed. I love my church.

    • So I’m curious why size dictates the frequency that you meet.

      • Hey Matt – we meet fortnightly to keep things “resource light”. Even though we’re now a small group of about 6 families, we still need someone to guide the discussion, someone to take care of the kids, someone to bring the food … so doing it fortnightly keeps it low maintenance, and allows us plenty of time to give more to people outside our church rather than commit a lot of time every week to people inside our church.

        That’s the “Jesus” answer … the other answer could be that we’re just plain lazy 😉

  19. Our pastor is not exactly focused on getting into an actual building (we are meeting in an elementary school gym), but he has informed the congregation that it is really on “us” to get a building. That might be code for “tithe for real and seriously approach me.” So far, the only people who have come forward about a buidling “do not tithe on principle” or whatever (direct quote, if you are wondering) or tend to not be that involved with the congregation.

    We love it, though. My wife and I are involved with the early elementary classes, the youth group, and launching the young adult ministry. Most of the people are great and loving people who would do anything for you if you asked (within reason, of course).

  20. Hmm.

    I don’t have a church. I don’t own a church.

    I do, however, belong to The Church that Jesus is building right now. I don’t know all the behind=the-scenes stuff, but I can honestly say it’s doing swimmingly well!

    It has great worship, phenomenal teaching, a rather incredibly authoritative Head Pastor, and the before and after chit-chat amongst members is pretty memorable stuff.

    Church should always be spelled with a capital C, since it belongs to Jesus alone. What we have is ekklesia.

  21. I would love to find a church I would be excited about inviting people to :(

  22. Asking somebody about their church ranks right up there with asking a guy, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” No matter the answer, it’s not good. People perceive it as a questions used to trap them in something.

    We are tying to launch a house church network this year. It has been TOUGH. Being in the “Bible Belt”, going to a physical church building is a social and cultural thing. The fact that we have “church” in a house makes us pariahs in the church community – even though we’re part of a local church association.

    The bad thing about our church? Size and perception. As soon as I say something about home fellowship or house church, you can see them start trying to find a way to exit the conversation. :(