Why Church Looks Like Junior High School

April 16, 2012

Do you remember junior high?

How about high school?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve blocked quite a bit of those years from your memory.  Or maybe you’re just old and you’ve forgotten.  They weren’t the most pleasant of years.  Back then, we looked awkward, and our bodies were rebelling against us, and we were just trying to not look too insecure.

Every week, millions of Christians go to church.  They sing and pray and that’s great.  But if you ask me, there’s a good chance that for a lot of Christians, church is kind of a holdover from high school.

High School Hierarchy

High school civilization was a hierarchy.  It was like the caste system.  You were practically born into your rank on the social pyramid.  Everyone knew where you belonged.  And you could not change your caste.

At the top were the most popular kids.  They were good looking, probably athletic.  Their parents had enough money to buy them the right clothes.  They were leaders and queen bees and big personalities.  Popular kids tend to know who the other beautiful, popular kids are, so they stick together.  They had their own table in the cafeteria.

The rest of us were jockeying to not be dead last on the social ladder.  We lacked something that prevented us from sitting at that coveted cafeteria table.  Some of us weren’t as beautiful or athletic.  Some of us were weird or just quiet.  Some of us were picked dead last for teams in gym class.  We knew who we were.

Where Do All the Cool People Go to Church?

When people go church shopping, how do they know they’ve found the “right” church?

I suspect when many people go church shopping, they start with the most popular churches, the places with a reputation.  The most popular churches might have beautiful facilities, or a superstar preacher, or rock star worship leaders.  They really know how to use social media and look freaking awesome doing it.  Maybe the church attracts creative, beautiful, people.  These churches really have their act together.  No reason everyone wants to be a part of them.

I wonder how many church shoppers have visited the most popular church in town first, and didn’t visit a single other church.  They just knew that God was calling them to go to this church.  How could God possibly want them to go to any other church?

For the vast majority of us who didn’t get to sit with the cool, beautiful, popular kids, maybe being a part of the most popular, beautiful church finally satisfies our unfulfilled desires to be a part of the “in” crowd.

Does Your Church Love You or Need You?

Here’s how people know they’ve found the right church:

They feel welcomed.  They fell accepted.  They feel validated.  Maybe they even feel loved.  We covet these things.

But how many people know they’ve found the right group of people to hang out with because they feel needed?

You’ll know a church needs you when it isn’t the most popular.  It doesn’t totally have it’s act together.  It’s not the most beautiful.  The people are a little more awkward, even weird, a little less sure of themselves.

Jesus knew how to find these people.  He came and sat down at their table.  And all the cool guys who were used to sitting at the popular table said, “Look at Jesus sitting with those losers.  That chick sitting across from him is a total slut.”

There are people and groups and churches that still get picked dead last, just like in gym class.  Not much has changed since junior high.  And guess what?  The popular kids still don’t really need you…not nearly as much as you think you need them.

So, are you going to spend your whole life the same way you spent high school, trying to get in with the popular kids?  Or are you going to find the nerds and Goths and sluts, sitting over there in the corner, like Jesus did?

What say you?  Do you think your church is the “popular kids'” table?  Or does it look more like the kids that Jesus would have lunch with in high school?  Does your church actually need you?

39 responses to Why Church Looks Like Junior High School

  1. You know, it’s kind of ironic that, as someone who picks the underdog, I’ve often picked churches simply because they don’t appear to be the most popular. I suppose that even in this I’m just reliving my younger days, when I was the underdog (ok, still am). It’s pretty crazy how close to accurate your post is, even if it’s accurate for a different reason for me.

  2. Most days I’d like to think that I generally have my issues under better control than I did in junior high.

    However, all these years later I still can’t seem to stand being around people that remind me of the “popular kids”–attractive, confident, people that everyone seems to really like. I almost reflexively tend to be a bit suspicious of them in the back of my mind.

    The same thing goes for churches, I suppose. It’s probably why I’ve always been uncomfortable in really large, trendy churches–they remind me too much of a big pep rally. I spent most pep rallies sitting under the bleachers sulking because I couldn’t stand all the forced enthusiasm. I visited the big “shopping mall” church that my sister goes to one time, and being in the middle of a crowd of folks waving their arms around in front of a jumbotron only seemed to bring out my inner emo kid.

    Weird, huh? I’m in my 30’s–you’d think I’d have outgrown all those feelings by now.

    • Maybe we never grow out of our inner high school emo kid!

      • You don’t – I’m in my mid-50s, and I’m still there.

        GREAT post! I’ve been a member of one of the “popular” big churches in my area for over 30 years; but I actually feel more needed at my sister’s small little old-fashioned church. This is solidifying some thinking I’ve been doing lately. Thanx for the comments!

  3. What say you? Do you think your church is the “popular kids’” table? Or does it look more like the kids that Jesus would have lunch with in high school?

    My church is not the most popular buy a long shot. The most popular churches in New England are Catholic churches. They are the ones with police to direct traffic, and one-way parking lots. They pack out 4-5 services per weekend, and you can’t get a season on Christmas or Easter.

    In the Evangelical world, we are at about 120 members. That is pretty standard around these parts. Sure, there are a few bid city churches that are in the 1000-1500 range, but not in a town with a population of 11,142.

    Does your church actually need you? No. And in fact God doesn’t need me. For those that understand the relationship between a father and their child, you know that you don’t need kids. However; healthy parents pour into their children regardless of how they turn out. That is how God is. He pours into us regardless of what our abilities and disabilities are if we let him.

    The manicured American church is really just another corporation looking to promote those that fit the mold.

    What I find is that most people want to be significant in the life of another. Jesus always provided significance. For those that had power and position, that was their significance in the community. Some of them broke down and went for the real thing; like Nicodemus or Zacchaeus for instance. Each one of us feels this significance in a different ways. For the low-lifes, there was nothing to feel significant about, and those were the ones that responded to Jesus’ message in droves.

    When we have a deep relationship with God, we get that there sin’t enough that we can do to please him, but communion with the Spirit (read Song of Songs – it is all about this intimacy). When we have a deeply religious or intellectual relationship with God/church, we are always going to be looking for significance is what we do, how we do it, who knows our name, how many sheep in the sheep pen, how much we put in the offering plate, what causes we support, what we say, how we look to others, and all that other superficial stuff.

    The freedom of grace is simply being who God has made us and responding to the direction of the Spirit. When there is no one left to please, to look good for, to out preform, we are in place to be real with God. I like that place.

    • David, I completely agree that God doesn’t need us. But I do think it’s important for people to be needed by other people. A church that is so manicured that everyone comes in and has nothing to do makes for a lot of spectators.

      • Oh, I agree that everyone needs to serve God by serving others. I hate spectating at services. Some folks serve to get noticed, and do things so that others will like them or promote them. A good test of this is asking the one of them to sit out for service, or clean a toilet without complaining.

        When the serving is for God, and not for thanks, recognition, atta-boys, and your name mentioned in the bulletin or from the pulpit, then maybe we are saying the same thing with different words.

    • Fascinating, David. Down South here, it’s the evangelical churches that are often the “cool” churches, and the Catholic churches might be big (or not) but definitely not “cool.” And the mainline? I have yet to see a place where that’s the cool church in town!

  4. Wow, that was good and interesting but unfortunately won’t change a thing!!! I am at the nerd church; old building, a mix of people, don’t have a cool name with “Pointe” in it, pews, and steps! We are definitely on the second tier of churches to visit in town. We don’t / can’t do the big productions,advertise on TV but do what we do with excellence. I get frustrated that the cool churches keep stealing people from the loser churches – the rich get richer. I guess your article validates me at some level.

  5. I first arrived at my church at the ripe old age of 6. I have no idea if it was the “cool” church back then (almost 30 years ago now), but it is “First Baptist,” so we were probably one of the bigger churches even then. One of my biggest beefs with our church today though is how it tries so hard sometimes to be like – using their curricula, going to their conferences, implementing their programs, etc.

    It grates against me sometimes, but I feel like it’d be one of many wrong reasons to leave if I left because my church had gotten “too cool.”

    I think it’s kinda funny though that you seem to have collected a bunch of the “outcasts” here. Or does everyone really think of themselves that way and just assumes that everyone else is “cool?”

  6. My high school experience involved being part of the egg heads and I was happy where I was. I didn’t want to be part of the “popular table” because there was so much pressure.

    I have been involved in start up churches most of my church life. Start up churches die with cliques. There might have been a “popular table” once my first church became more established, but they weren’t so into themselves that they wouldn’t allow others to join them. Any cliques were based on the friendships formed in small groups, which God kept changing up. My husband and I chose the church because the teaching was good and we stayed with it through the ups and downs because we felt like we were part of a family.

    When we moved, we attended a big church, which I affectionately call “The Mothership” because it has created so many start up churches from its members. It does have cliques and even a popular table, but the popular table has let a geek like me sit with them. However, we went with a group of people over a year a go to form a start up church in a community of the forgotten and, in some cases, despised. I wrote about my experiences in it in my blog: http://www.tandemingtroll.blogspot.com/2012/02/adoption.html. And because it is a start up church, yes, it needs me and I need it.

    I guess one question I would ask is how much of the “clique making” is self inflicted? What I mean is, how much of the “popular table” existing is because those who are on the outside are unwilling to try and sit at the table and get to know the “anointed ones” vs. the “anointed ones” keeping people out who approach them?

  7. There’s a church in our town where all the Christian celebrities go. It’s a great church, from what I know, but I feel as intimidated by all those “cool kids” as I did in middle school!

  8. Our church is the former alcoholics, addicts and strippers; those coming from broken marriages and abusive childhoods; we even have a worship team member who met his wife in our church building back when it was still a dirty, lower class night club.

    We say the things the popular kids, er, churches won’t say because it means people don’t get the warm fuzzy Jesus-lite style popular today.

  9. Matt,
    No joke, I just finished writing a post on why other feamle Christian bloggers make me feel like I’m in junior high.

    I don’t feel cool enough. I feel like the nerdy, unpopular kid and everyone is wondering why the heck I was invited to the party.

    Church can feel like that too. But man, I think it must anger God. In Jesus’ church everyone is “in.” It is not an exclusive club but an inclusive one. We’re all cool kids…now if we’d just start treating each other that way.

  10. Mrs G & I were fortunate to be able to have the awesome experience of being part of a church from the ground up. We just celebrated our 3 year anniversary in January.
    After growing up in the typical small town Southern Baptist Church, it was great to be engaged and part of a church that has a vision and is constantly engaging the community as well as it’s own members.
    The people seem to understand that they’re active participants and not just an audience. That statement is constantly reinforced by the many off shot ministries that are started & run by the members. They see a need, they don’t wait for the Pastor to point it out and ask, they fill it.

    By the way, I’ve really enjoyed reading your blogs. I appreciate the candor and authenticity of it. Keep it up. – @gthegeek

  11. I am quite grateful to The Ironic Catholic for leading me to your Sweet-Looking Blog!

    The visuals are amazing!

    And, well, this is my first read, and, well…I am HOOKED!

    I will continue to read but I have a feeling I have found a new Blog to pull my hair out over because I have no time!

    God Love You ♥

  12. You are clearly a genius. I have people tell me, “No other church is doing____________” and I often wonder, “How do you know? Have you visited every church in our area?”

    Keep up the great insights.

    • I am not sure where C4 falls into the “popularity contest”, but C4 gave us what we needed. Welcoming, acceptance, validation, etc…we found that. And C4 was the first church we visited when we came to the area. I am very glad we did not church hop! :-)

      • I’m not sure where we fall either, probably not in the top ten or twenty, but then again, we’re not trying to be popular, just obedient and true to God’s Word. Y’all are blessing to me and C4!!

  13. As I’ve posted to Matt before, I’ve been struggling with church issues and wondering if I fit in with ANY church at all. The church I’ve attended for the past decade is run by “cliques” and people whom I suspect see church as more of a social function than a spiritual one. Members may even volunteer and get involved, as another poster said, to be seen and maybe even (dare I say it) show off. As for the cliques, instead of the “cool” jocks, cheerleaders, etc. we have the “power families” who run the show. Let’s call them The Smiths, The Joneses, The Browns, etc. If you are not “in” with the power families, then you are an “outcast.”

    This church also lacks diversity. Painfully lacks it. I notice too that most of the church members are prim and proper, happily married couples with kids, who live in the same middle class suburb, who drink tea and make quilts in their spare time, who are PTA moms who stay at home and showed off their kids, who are very reserved, etc. Few and far between are: People of color. Single or divorced parents. Unmarried or never married people. People with tattoos. People who are below a certain socioeconomic line. I stopped attending that church after I felt and saw how I was ostracized and excluded in many ways. I am middle class, happily married and a resident of the middle class suburb. But there were things about me that did not gel well with them. In terms of what made me in particular not fit in, it wasn’t having “nerdy clothes,” it was being too quirky and outspoken. It wasn’t “wearing a pocket protector,” it was not being a stay at home mom. You get the idea…

    I’ve been testing other churches in the meantime, both large and small. However, I’m not sure where I am having more “success.” I DID try to get plugged into a small underdog church. It was losing members and very tiny, but I felt like I wanted to help out and get involved. Well, I was somewhat turned away. My requests to joint their prayer circle and other activities were ignored or messages weren’t returned. My attempts to have coffee with their pastor were thwarted or canceled. (I later was notified that their pastor had a small nervous breakdown and had to go on a leave of absence.) Other smaller churches seemed to have pre-existing social cliques too and I did not feel like trying to be the newcomer begging to “fit in” again. (Yes, memories of jr. high creeped up in me.)

    Sooo… I wandered into the big “megachurch.” Yes, some may criticize them for being too “rock star like” but I found that the diversity of people, the atmosphere that was too large for any one clique to take over, the friendliness of the staff… That all seemed good to me. I have been attending there for a while now, not quite a member, but “parked” there for the time being. I’m not sure where I’ll go from here.

  14. I would like to share Matt why people walk out of Church sometimes never to return it takes a bit of wordage I hope that is ok.

    When we point at others three fingers are pointing back at us.

    One of the things that the Lord asks us to do is to stop and look for the beauty in each person no matter how difficult we or others may think they are, but it does help to remember that many people felt Jesus was very difficult, enough to kill Him, thank goodness our judgment of others does not cause us to want to do this or does it?

    We can kill them with our self inflated thoughts such as, well after all they do this and that and I never do any of these things, and after all they talk too much, but I’m a good listener. Also they show their feelings too openly, don’t they realize we should always put on a happy face, it embarrasses me when they’re upset or express themselves in a demonstrative way. Did you see how overweight they are and those old fashioned clothes, they even stutter.

    I have every right to make this judgment, after all I’m Trained and I’m accepted by friends who are important and influential people, and they are a nobody without degrees or proper training. I do and have done so much to help others, why can’t they be more like me then they would be easier to Love.

    God’s word tells us to consider others better then ourselves, so it’s hard to find someone we can call difficult, but when we do call others this, we too become difficult and more then they are. Our attitude then should be humble wanting to serve them, respecting them and holding them in high esteem because of their position in the Lord, instead of demeaning them with what we think they should or should not do, or how they should be if they want our approval.

    We need to serve others in humility not pity or because we think we have to, we need to want to from our heart because they are worth it, because Jesus tells us they are, and when it is from our heart we will think they are too. We will be tolerant but it will be genuine and not from our head and when it is from the heart then our thoughts, words and actions will reflect our Love for them and they won’t wear us out because we will enjoy their company, then because of our Love and acceptance they will heal and respond back in Love, but it may take time, so our patience will need to come from the Holy Spirit not ourselves.

    Everyone has a need to be Loved and accepted, weaknesses and all, but this is not talking about accepting sin or as some call them warts, just the persons own idiosyncrasies or unusual personalities or things we may find annoying, and of course if they don’t agree with what we think and feel, well of course they are difficult and hard to Love. But what about the things we do that annoy others, how would we feel if others had us on their difficult list as someone just to hard to Love, but felt oh well after all I’m a Christian poor thing guess I will need to overlook how inferior they are won’t I, and maybe it will help me learn more patience and tolerance, anyway they can’t help it , after all they had a hard life or come from the wrong side of town so have lots of hang-ups or whatever.

    “Bit patronizing don’t you think?” Maybe they are just wanting people to Love them and see their Worth as a Child of God. Perhaps they are hurting and feel that no one cares.

    We need to Love from our heart and then we can tear up our lists because no one will be difficult in our eyes, perhaps hurting, perhaps different, perhaps even unusual from us in their ways, perhaps unloved by others or not accepted, but we then give them more Love like Jesus did, no He didn’t accept sin as ok but He accepted everyone enough to die for them and He never exulted himself above others in His attitudes and feelings towards them, He had no need to, He knew His worth so no one was on His difficult list, even the Pharisees he offered His Love and Friendship to, no He didn’t like their sinful actions but He Loved them. He considered us all the same in need of forgiveness, Love, acceptance and healing.

    So this tells us we are to Love others not from our head but from our heart. We need to stop the phoniness and move on in genuine Love accepting others, crying with them, helping to carry their burdens, spurring them on towards good deeds, rejoicing with them, being encouraging and supporting instead of labelling others to exalt ourselves. When we do this it shows we are hurting too, so we need to seek Jesus for His healing, only He can set us free.

    Remember God tells us the very people we put down are the ones He will use to show us just how much we lack and when we put labels on them we are also doing this to the Lord, when we hurt others we hurt Him and when we reject others as people of worth, we are rejecting Him as important in our lives.

    1 Corinthians 1: 27-29 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in His presence.

    Philippians 2: 1-5

    Romans 13:8 – 10

    Romans 15: 1-3

    1 Corinthians 13

    Corinthians 12:12 -24

    1 Corinthians 13

    1 Corinthians 1: 27- 29

    Galatians 6:1-10

    Luke 12:1

    Thank you Matt Christian Love from both of us Anne.

  15. I’m just like you—I’ve blocked quite a bit of both my junior high and high school years. Thankfully, my church isn’t much like junior high school at all, but (unfortunately) I know that many of my friends’ churches are exactly how you described. Here’s to hoping that things change for the better for these churches!

  16. Wow, you hit it right on the nose there. I play music and this is my beef right here. Churches all over the place are looking for musicians, and yet I see a majority of excellent musicians coming to these big ones who rotate teams, because there are so many that wait in line to play. Huh? Something’s not right here, not evenly distributed. I’m not saying going to a big church is wrong if they’re called and have been going for years, but something’s not right with that distribution. It tells us many people are going to where they want to go, rather than where they’re needed. I might write about this on my blog as well.

    • Oh yeah- it may look like the church is just trying to prevent burnout. The fact is, they’re just overstocked with slobs with egos that are so big, they have to be in front of a big audience. A little church with no sound system – where they’d have to do just acoustic – wouldn’t be worth their effort.

  17. Hey Matt… Thanks for another great post. I think that many popular “mega-churches” have simply lost focus. They focus too much on themselves. They focus on comfort, entertainment, etc. but not on the important things such as calling others to repentance and faith.

    I don’t recall Jesus entertaining the crowd. I recall Him making them so uncomfortable with His teaching that hoards of the crowd would get fed up and leave. Sometimes people can’t handle the truth. It stings.. but if you stay around, the truth can set you free.

    The church needs to reset it focus.

  18. Haha! Church is SO like high school. Although, I found that a lot of life is like that. At least from what I’ve seen.

    Reminds me of this song by Bowling for Soup:

  19. Matt,

    I have recently visited both the mega-churches and the churches that are so small you’d run into the wall if you turned around in them. I’ve found that some small churches are just as bad as the mega-churches. They don’t have a “popular lunch table”, the entire church is the “popular lunch table” and ALL of the seats are already taken! There’s nothing more unnerving than trying to find a place to fit in. A place where your talents can be appreciated and used.

    They tell me, time and time again, that church is about God and that I shouldn’t care about the people in the church. I wholeheartedly disagree. But, that’s just me.

  20. Theodore A. Jones June 9, 2012 at 7:36 am

    Millions of people do attend churches, but since it is true that only a very few find the small narrow gate into His church, an actual Chrictian is something very far and few between.

  21. Great discussion! The majority of churches I’ve visited have completely ignored me. It’s like I am invisible. The church members are like junior high cliques, not at all inviting or friendly to a first-timer.

  22. I discovered the perfect solution: I just don’t go to church anymore! Well, except on Christmas when I go just for the fam. I’d much rather enjoy watching football, or ice climbing, rather than go listen to some guy tell me what he thinks God thinks. Ridiculous!

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