The Absentee Church : Time of extreme risk : George Barna

Leaders are increasingly alarmed about the body’s casual approach to the mission of the church

Even the most spiritual and mission-minded Christians seem to be pulling back from the corporate gathering, from the church in America.

I recently talked with a pastor who said he was disturbed that a couple of his key leaders were absent from a special church event. He was beside himself. Apparently they didn’t replace this mission critical event with something of more spiritual significance, but simply to relax and enjoy a night out on the town.

In this biblically historic season, the potential is great but the church is at extreme risk of becoming nearly powerless in most of American culture. The call must be to gather continually and to pray fervently.

Kay Sharpe, a friend of mine, sent me this email:

We had revival (I mean, full-tilt, make Brownsville Toronto and Lakeland look tame) … we were about to ramp it up… and suddenly most of the people who make it all “work” had “other things to do” —

I wept.

George Barna discovered in a recent poll:

Although there were a few subgroups that were more likely than average to experience church-based accountability, there was not a single segment for which even one out of every five people said their church does anything to hold them accountable.

The people are pulling back, often only attending a church service a couple times a month (statistically, twice a month is considered regular church attendance). There is little accountability and an increasing resistance to a raised bar of commitment to the mission of the church. There’s also an alarming trend to adopt personal spiritual missions (usually good and God given) but outside of the context of their local church. The calls and mandates that God lays on our hearts must be carried out within the structure and context of the broader corporate mission—the church.


In a society in which choice is king, there are no absolutes, every individual is a free agent, we are taught to be self-reliant and independent.

There are other issues that keep people away from a diligent commitment to the local church. I taught recently on “The Spirit of Insignificance” and would recommend strongly that you take some time to listen to it ( I’ve discovered that most people believe that it matters little if they pull back and miss church services, prayer events and other ‘all church’ corporate meetings. If we understood that our absence has an exponential impact on the rest of the body and on the mission of the church there’s no way we’d miss an event (with very few, rare exceptions), regardless of how many times a week the church doors are open!

Another key issue for the departure from the church is that people tend to treat the church like an number of other places they visit throughout the week. People to go the grocery store to get stuff. They go to a restaurant to get some food that satisfies. They go to a baseball game to be entertained.

The church, however, must be treated with a much different approach. The church isn’t like a grocery store, but it is very much like a military. While there are personal benefits to enrolling in the Army (free food, insurance, etc.), the call is to serve. There is surrender of a lot of personal freedoms for the sake of the health of the nation. Time freedom, how we spend our money, comforts, the way we live all changes as we embrace our assignment in the church. Of course, the blessings that are attached to this kind of commitment, the spiritual impact, is phenomenal. However, with that in mind, consider this additional finding from Barna:

Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.

Again, people want to go to church to learn life skills, to gain some nuggets of inspiration that will help take them through the next week. They want the church to make their life better instead of their life making the church better. To use the church in this manner is tragic. I have found that people are invigorated and inspired when deep, challenging and Holy Spirit communicated spiritual principles are taught, but it’s rare to actually respond by living up to that level of challenge.


When asked what matters most, teenagers prioritize education, career development, friendships, and travel. Faith is significant to them, but it takes a back seat to life accomplishments.

Americans consider survival in the present to be much more significant than eternal security and spiritual possibilities.

Most will participate in church to a degree when they receive help, discover friendships, feel connected, etc., but it is truly a special and rare thing to find true soldiers who connect and commit because they have a plan and a call to pour out and serve regardless of disappointment, frustration, other life focuses, offense or rejection.

Allow me to state this clearly: The call to the church as it prepares for revival will not be easy, convenient or fulfilling much of the time. It will often be exhausting, disappointing and slow to develop. However, the cost is worth it as we trust that God will, in time, impact people for eternity.