Posted by: Philip Rushton | March 26, 2014

I Believe In The Church: Why the negative statistics about Christianity don’t tell the whole story

The church is often painted in a negative light these days, both in secular and Christian circles. There has been an influx of articles and books in recent years that have focused on the decline of Christianity. The headlines suggest that the church is shrinking, young people are leaving in droves, and outsiders view Christians as hateful hypocrites.

Books that point out the challenges facing the church have there place. I have referenced these kinds of ideas frequently on the blog. We need to be honest about the issues that are hurting the churches witness in the world. However, I believe that this negative perspective of the church fails to tell the whole story.

WRIGHT-CoverFinal.indd Bradley Wright recently published a book titled, Christians are Hate Filled Hypocrites . . . And other lies you have been told. As a sociologist who specializes in statistics, Wright evaluates the data that supports many of the negative claims that are being made about Christians. He concludes that,

“Many of the statistics bandied about regarding the Christian faith in the United States are incomplete, inaccurate, and otherwise prone to emphasize the negative. Bad news has pushed aside the good news about the Good News.”

For example, he exposes the flawed sampling size, question structure, and data interpretation behind the Barna groups claim that, “only prostitutes rank lower then evangelicals in the mind of the public.”

Wright suggests that the picture is not as bleak as the literature often suggests. His assessment of the data is more balanced. The church certainly has its challenges, and Wright is quick to point out where the statistics are not so hopeful. Yet, he shows that the church does a lot of things right and continues to make a positive impact on society.

Wright’s sociological findings certainly resonate with my experience. To be sure, I have had my fair share of negative experiences in the church. As a pastor I get to see the not so pleasant underbelly of church politics from time to time. Churches are not exempt from hypocrisy, power issues, and general bad behavior. This should not surprise us if we take our theology seriously. We are, after all, a community of people who fall short of the glory of God. However, my experience with church has been overwhelmingly positive.

A couple weeks ago I spent some time journaling about the positive things I see taking place here at Longview Community Church. It is quite remarkable when you think about it. We are caring for our kids and youth, supporting mothers, providing free counseling to our community, running a food bank, supporting missionaries all around the world, nurturing marriages, providing community for seniors, making meals for the sick, visiting the home-bound, studying scripture, facilitating important conversations about faith and life, learning to live in community, volunteering at local non-profits, and worshiping God.

I write all this to say that I still believe in the church! God is still using the church to make a difference. I think it is important for us to name things properly. It is easy to focus on the negative things. Negativity makes good headlines and sells books, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

I resonate with these thoughts by Kevin Harney:

“Maybe I am blind or dense. Possibly I am missing something. Perhaps I have been hanging out with a select group of super-Christians who are gracious, humble, and really love Jesus. But I don’t think so. I believe my experience is more the norm than the exception. I really do believe that most people who follow Jesus are seeking to love one another and to reach out to the world with God’s grace.”

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Responses

  1. Thanks, Phil for this blog. We all hear negative things about church, but as one who has stayed in “the church” all my 86 years,f I think LCC is really doing a fantastic job, as your current blog suggests. I am thrilled with all the activities available to the broad spectrum the three of you pastors provide! This is way beyond just a Sunday worship service! Much love and respect, Honoré


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