by Thom Schultz
We talk about all kinds of juicy, newsy things with friends at work or school. But not at church.
No. No. No. We can’t talk about that at church. Someone might get upset.
But the church’s avoidance of these hot topics is one of the very things that is driving people away from church participation today.
Some church leaders believe people today do not want to hear about Christian perspectives on today’s cultural issues. Research shows otherwise. Pollster George Barna and the American Culture & Faith Institute recently revealed a list of spicy things that church-goers say they want to grapple with at church. Take a look at some of the popular topics:
- Sexual identity
- Law and order
- Religious persecution
People want to talk about faith-full responses to the thorny issues of our time. But most church leaders constipate in fear when thinking about hot topics. I suppose that’s understandable, given that the discussion of these topics on talk shows often degenerates into ugly shouting matches. It’s true that our society is losing some prowess for civil discourse. But why not let the church help people grow in the art of civil, helpful, respectful conversation?
In our book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore we note people’s desire for “fearless conversation” at church. And Lifetree Café locations across the country show how to engage people in civil, Christian conversation about tough issues. Let me share a bit of what we’ve learned about how to encourage fearless conversation–without self-immolation.
1. Set expectations. Let people know these hot topics will be discussed in a respectful way, without anger, judgmentalism, sarcasm or snarkiness. Pray, together, for peaceful discourse.
2. Make it conversational. Our research shows people today are less interested in being lectured. They want to ask questions, share their thoughts, an-d engage in some give-and-take.
3. Don’t harangue. Sociologist Josh Packard writes in Church Refugees that people flee churches not because they may disagree with church teachings, but because they feel shut down by “know-it-all” leaders.
4. Share scripture. And allow others to share their scripture selections. Let the Holy Spirit nudge individuals to interpret scripture and apply it to their lives.
5. Keep the main thing the main thing. These hot topics, no matter how compelling, are not the main reason the church gathers. Everything should lead to a deepening relationship with Jesus.
We are called to be Jesus-centered. In all things.