Hello, my name is Rohan. I like Netflix and birds. I also like the internet, provocatively-titled articles and chicken.
I thoroughly enjoy discussing ideas, politics, storytelling and writing and I’ve even come to like those inconsistent rules in English spelling and grammar that used to make me cry in primary school.
There are a lot of things I enjoy in life, but I hate church.
About a month ago I confessed this to some friends while I was visiting the United States. Their mouths where literally agape. How could this be? I’m very open about my faith, and I suppose that’s one of the first things that springs to mind when people think of me.
I thoroughly enjoy theology, community and talking about what Jesus means to me. I like Christians and I ardently believe that churches have an important role to play in society. I work for a church and I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about church and churches and how to grow them and encourage them and all the exciting, interesting things about them. I even spent nearly two years living in a Christian community on Iona because I believe communities of faith are a vital part of what it means to follow Jesus.
But none of that changes the fact that sitting through a church service makes me want to pull my fingernails out.
I love learning and listening to people talk, but I can’t listen to a sermon without completely zoning out.
I love to sing and dance, but church worship feels artificial and I can’t stand it.
I don’t know why. In my teens and early 20s I LOVED going to church. It was the highlight of my week. I’d go to church in the morning, spend all day hanging out with church people and then go to church with them again at night. Then we’d have dinner together and chat late into the night. But not anymore. What changed?
Maybe I overchurched myself when I was on Iona. While I lived there we had church twice a day every day. By the end of my time there it was all too much and I regularly skipped the morning office, and sometimes evening worship too. That’s probably a contributing factor.
Leaving my old church on the Gold Coast may be another. Having to make new friends and a find new support network in Brisbane was hard, and I might be trying to find an identical thing in what is actually a very different context. I still visit my old church from time to time and in many ways it feels like coming home, but there’s still the feeling that this isn’t where it’s at for me anymore. I’m done.
At the moment when people ask where I go to church, there is a congregation I say I attend. My boyfriend and I started going there a few months ago and we really enjoy spending time with everyone there. But the reality is we might make it once a month if we’re lucky. I’ll take any excuse to avoid a church service.
Before the service starts it’s great, and once it’s over I’m in my element, but during worship I feel stressed and cynical, and then I feel guilty about feeling stressed and cynical.
I should be into this. I love God and love the church, so why do I hate church services? Can I even do my job properly if I don’t like going to church? Do I have the dreaded “It’s all about me” mentality that my pastors always decried and which I always looked down on during my more enthusiastic churchgoing days? I know God loves me, but is he annoyed at me for being so petulant about the whole thing?
That’s a lot of me-focused thought happening when I’m supposed to be participating in a God-centred worshipping community. I feel guilty about that too.
I know this side of things is my problem. I’d probably just deal with it and go if I truly believed that’s all it is, but there’s also the niggling thought that I am definitely not alone feeling this way. My story is one part of a much larger story.
It’s not a secret that churches in Western countries are struggling to attract and retain people my age. It’s practically a miracle that I’ve been attending church for as long as I have. There’s a lot of talk about how churches can fix this, but the problem is so complex nobody is quite sure what to do about it.
Is it a crisis in theology? (Partly!)
A crisis in style of worship? (Maybe!)
Do we ask too much or too little from our young adults? (Sometimes!)
A neglect of single people and those whose families aren’t “normal”? (YES!)
Is religion in a losing battle with science? (Not really!)
Are Christians sometimes insular and naive? (Kinda!)
Is there a negative demographic shift? (Sort of!)
Do ministers misunderstand the reasons people go to church? (Probably!)
Are churches too paralysed by fear of obliteration to innovate? (A little!)
Too wedded to nostalgia and tradition? (Perhaps!)
Are people too afraid to admit when they don’t like going to church, so they just kind of embarrassedly drift away never to be seen or heard from again?
I think that last one is a pretty safe bet. It doesn’t explain the whole problem, but I think it’s more common than we’d like to admit and I’d like to avoid being part of it, if I can.
I don’t like going to church. Can’t entirely put my finger on why. It’s a problem for me and for God’s family.
I’m open to suggestions on what to do about it.