Check out this news story about a Gallup Poll whose findings included that only 46% of people surveyed "had either a 'great deal' or 'quite a lot' of confidence in the church"
So, what are we to make of this?
Is it like when a health scare hits a fast food restaurant and no body wants to eat there? Recently the Ted Haggard scandal could have been a case for folks to distrust the church- how could a prominent preacher have a double life?
Do people not trust the church because of money? Are the televangelist fiascoes of the 80's still lingering in people's minds?
It would be interesting to me to see how the survey was framed and what questions were asked and by what criteria people were selected. But to me this is could be telling about what the church is facing.
Unless you live in Springfield MO (with like, 12 huge churches on every block) the church isn't the center of the community. No longer can we just assume that people have had a basic Judaeo-Christian worldview or have "been raised" or "been around" church. Ministering to people who have been raised in church is like, step 3. We have to start at step 1- ministering to people who are a little suspicious of "religion" or "church". This is accomplished by individuals in congregations building relationships with folks outside of the church. Not like people who "don't go to church" are our labrats or something, but loving folks is what are job is, regardless of whether they go to church! Step 2 is gaining trust through honest care for the person, getting to know their struggles, their needs, their perceptions of the church. That's the challenge of 21st century ministry, which probably isn't a new challenge at all, showing people that the church is the body of Christ charged with doing his work and building the Kingdom of God. So really...not much has changed...just go do God's work and the "trust statistics" should hopefully climb!
But that leads me to another thought. I would like to see what percentage of folks surveyed identified themselves as "Christian" or more vaguely as "religious". What if the 46% are the ones who are Christian and the rest aren't? Then does the burden of "trustyness" fall on the church? Or is it simply people don't want to have to change their lives as a result of the Gospel? Maybe you don't want to trust what you fear will make you confront your thoughts about life and the ways you live it?
The danger in this can be a quite a nice self-fulfilling prophecy. I was in a discussion with a friend once and they remarked: "Well the only true bible preaching churches are going to be small, because the gospel isn't popular". Hmmm. Isn't that a cozy justification for a stagnant community. (Insert comment about how 'it's not about the numbers here') I'm just saying this is tricky stuff. How can the church be inclusive of folks who are distrustful but still faithful to our mission and the Gospel of Christ which transforms hearts and changes lives?