If you were to look up the term "Christian Stereotype" in the nearest dictionary, odds are you would find my picture beside the entry and a caption reading "See: Jack Arbuckle". A middle-class white male raised by happily married parents who attended church every Sunday, I was practically the mold from which one would form the "Cookie Cutter Christian". I came to my own profession of faith while in early elementary school, and as I got older my relationship with Christ strengthened. I attended Sunday School, Youth Group, summer camps, and a hundred other things that I came to associate as "Christian Activities". Yet, the older I got, the more I learned about Christ, and I quickly found myself coming to a very startling realization.
I loved God. I wasn't overly fond of his Church.
See, the Christian Church is a very complex organization to pin down. There are churches that I like - as in individual institutions that I fully believe actually practice what they preach. In terms of the overall Church, however, I have very few emotions that could be described as positive in nature; and I'm far from alone in that mentality. Overall, society is becoming unenamored with the Church, and fewer and fewer people actually care to go anymore. It would be all too easy to simply write this dip in attendance off as laziness or a prevalence of sin within society. After all, I still go despite my qualms, right? However, maybe we as Christians should start asking ourselves why people don't want to come to Church.
Maybe it's because the Church has become a club, rather than a community. What was supposed to be a place of worship has instead become a place where Christians attend on Sundays (and Wednesdays if they're feeling particularly pious that week), give a little offering, and gather into their usual cliques for a feel-good message before they totter on home to their regular old lives, unchanged by what goes on in the confines of the chapel.
Maybe it's because the Church is often the first group to judge and the last to forgive, rather than the other way around. Christians are very good at remembering the "Thou Shalt Nots", and forgetting about letting "he who is without sin cast the first stone". Judgement is their forte, and mercy a word they like to toss around when it means they can get something in return for it later. Forgiveness to so many isn't a wiped slate, but an IOU ready for collection at the next given opportunity.
Maybe it's because the Church that's supposed to weed out hypocrisy has instead become the hotbed of it. "Don't talk about people behind their backs," a Church attendant might warn, right before they turn to their friends and start gossiping about what the woman in their Sunday School class did that morning before the service. They expect perfection but demonstrate corruption without remorse, and then act as though the observers around them are somehow in the wrong.
Maybe it's because the Church looks a lot more like the Pharisees than it does the Apostles. With the law firmly in mind and mercy firmly abandoned, the modern Christian somehow comes away feeling that because they tithe a few extra dollars in this week's service they're somehow absolved from sin. They aren't interested in helping others or bettering the situations of those around them, but merely of lightening their own conscience. Compare this to the Pharisees of the New Testament and you'll find there isn't a lot of difference overall.
Maybe it's because the Church says Love and then doles out Hate. It's true that sin is sin and God does preach that we should hold people accountable, but he also urges us to show compassion and mercy to those we see struggling with sin. It wasn't the Pharisees Jesus chose to dine with, but the prostitutes and tax collectors. After all, "it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick". Instead, we see the Church ridicule the broken who come to their doorstep and act as though their own hypocrisy is somehow more righteous than the struggles of those who come seeking aid. The irony is, of course, only one of these two groups is actually seeking betterment.
Maybe it's because the times the Church should be doing the most to help are the times it's noticeably the most absent. I've known churches who have looked the families of cancer patients in the eye and told them "well, you're just not praying hard enough". Not even tiny redneck churches out in the middle of nowhere, but massive churches in the heart of the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas. When the Church should be compassionate, they're most judgemental. When they should be the kindest, they're the cruelest instead. It's no wonder the broken don't want to come to Church when faced with this reception.
Maybe it's because the Modern Church isn't about being Godly, but looking godly. Despite all of the issues mentioned above, the true issue at the heart of the Church can be summed up in this: The Modern Church is no longer about companionship or growth, but instead about the image and status one achieves from their attendance. No longer do attendants go because they want to change their ways, but instead they go so that they can gloat of their righteousness to their neighbors upon their arrival. It's not about growth. It's about image.
I don't write this article to disparage the notion behind the Church. Far from it in fact. I love the Church when it's serving its intended purpose, and I love God more than I'll ever love the Church. We'd be fooling ourselves, however, if we said that the Church was in a holy state currently. We act like society is crumbling because they're turning away from the Church, but neglect to acknowledge how the Church is crumbling because they're turning away from God. We preach, but we don't practice. We're a generation of Country Club Christians, but Heaven isn't a pay-to-play service.
If we're honest, I don't often think God would be very proud of the way the Church is operating in Modern America, and if I can't be proud of us as a Christian then how can I possibly expect an atheist or an agnostic to see any purpose in coming at all? Jesus never instructed us to be Country Club Christians. Maybe it's about time we stopped acting like them.