Why do churches attract mostly “buttoned-down, moralistic people”?

January 17, 2013

In his book Deep & Wide, Andy Stanley said that he believes unchurched people should like church because unchurched people liked Jesus. We who are the church ought to be like Jesus. If not, the church is doing something wrong. Pastor Tim Keller makes the same point in his book about the Parable of the Lost Sons, The Prodigal God, only he makes the point more strongly: For Keller, it isn’t a question of style—the way the message is packaged—but substance: we’ve got wrong message.

Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.[†]

Or the message doesn’t communicate to our culture today the same way it did back then. That’s usually what I tell myself. Yet, the very success of churches like Keller’s—in hip, urbane Manhattan, of all places—ought to make me wonder.

Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God (New York: Riverhead, 2008), 18-19.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: