The #1 Thing That Drives People Away From Church

If you listened to seminaries, you might think the answer was the biblical faithfulness of the preaching. If you listened to the ones who complain the most in the church, you might think the answer was the style of music or the overall decadence of society.


Several weeks ago I asked a question on Facebook: If you ever left church for a significant portion of time, what was it that drove you away? Here were the answers I got:

  • [My husband] and I both were very involved in youth groups and both got a bad taste in our mouth so to speak for church due to things that happened with our youth pastors.
  • As a very young Christian I think it was feeling like I couldn’t measure up. The church was very condemning and I was a babe in Christ so didn’t understand the grace of my Savior.
  • After we moved back to Columbus, we joined a church and attended for 8 years. I never felt “at home” the whole time we attended. Then a situation arose that caused quite a few members to leave, including us.
  • I grew up in church and was there for every event and activity as a child and through youth. But, after some stuff went down, my feelings were hurt and I resented the church.

Notice what wasn’t mentioned: preaching, style of music, stuff we obsess over. Notice what was central in each of the four comments: other church members. That’s the #1 thing that drives people away from church: church people. 

Why are there so many negative, gossiping, slandering, manipulative people in the church today? Why are there so many hypocrites in the church today? Share your thoughts below, and come this Sunday to Mt Vernon Church as we discuss this question, “why are there so many hypocrites in the church?”

10 (More) Things the Church Puts Ahead of Reaching People

A week ago I wrote a blog post titled 10 Things the Church Puts Ahead of Reaching People. I had absolutely no idea what kind of deep reservoir I had tapped into when I wrote those thoughts. The blog quickly went viral with over 175,000 views in the first week. More than that, many of you engaged, leaving comments with your experiences and other things that you would add to that list. In honor of your great interaction and some incredible comments, I want to share 10 (More) Things the Church Puts Ahead of Reaching People, based exclusively off your comments from the original post.


1. Money. Hannah wrote, “I think money needs to be on this list. I can’t tell you how many churches I have attended that had thousands of dollars saved up but were unwilling to spend any of it to reach out to the community. They would rather watch the church die than spend the money.”

Bill echoed Hannah’s thought with his own, “I believe Money should be number one on your list. Todays’ modern church spends more time trying to raise money than they do evangelizing. They take up ‘special offerings’, they have pledge programs, they have fund raisers and some even sell bonds to raise more money.” The Bible itself says “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).” If not controlled and safeguarded against, the love of money can destroy even a church.

2. Selective Judgement. Cory wrote, “Being right. Before loving. For lack of a better title. The church elevates specific sins as worse than others. They alienate that sinner and embrace another that seems less horrible. Then stand on select verses to prove their RIGHT.” We know Bible speaks against judging others (Matthew 7:1, Romans 2:1), but too often the church chooses to selectively judge others, usually condemning sins that it conveniently doesn’t struggle with. Jesus modeled grace and truth (John 1:17). Churches should aspire to the same standard.

3. Fear of man. Karen wrote, “I think we fear what people will think of us more than we fear the accountability before God. Talking about spiritual things in an age of politcal correctness leaves us in a dilemma. We hope our actions or our example will be enough but the Bible clearly calls us to word and deed.” This can be the polar opposite of selective judgment. For fear of falling into the quick sand of judgment, some churches refuse to take any stands at all, building their houses upon the ever-shifting sands of culture rather than the rock of Jesus’ teaching. Once again, Jesus modeled how to embrace both grace and truth (John 1:17). As churches, we need to follow in his footsteps.

4. Dress/Appearances. George wrote, “Clothes – Some people put a ton of emphasis on how people dress at church.” Agreed. I’ve experienced this too many times in my own life. I think previous generations were taught to dress up to church as a sign of respect (a good thing), but over time the emphasis became less on the respect and more about the appearances.

William shared his own heartbreaking example, “My company moved me around a lot and we attended several different churches. We had been going to one in Southern California, I noticed that most but not all wore suits or a sport coat. I wasn’t used to the Summer heat and wore a nice polo shirt and slacks. After about a month my wife and I were met at the door by three deacons. I was told that in their church we “dressed up to come to church” I had been in the process of downsizing a department in my company and had a bad week. My wife didn’t say anything and looked at me. I looked the fellow in the eyes for about fifteen seconds and without saying anything reached down and dusted my shoes off and my wife and I left. The church is the people, not a suit or building.”

Anne shared the answer to this issue, “Transparency (If we would take off our masks of everything is perfect in our lives and get real about the troubled times we have gone through & let them know without Christ we would possibly not survived, I bet more and more people would come to know Him. I know I’ve been there.)”

5. Lack of Excellence. As Tim wrote, “Lousy preaching / bad worship experience due to inattentiveness and incompetence.” No church would ever admit this, but some churches put laziness ahead of  reaching people. It’s amazing how many churches can take a life-changing message and awe-inspiring worship and bore people to tears with it.

6. Preaching over Relationships. This is a counterpoint to Tim’s previous comment. Peter wrote, “I’d say preaching and teaching over loving and leading by example. I’ve met and come across seminary graduates who taut their degrees but are unwilling to hit the streets to witness. Preaching is great but I’m learning that many suffer because some preachers want to speak to the masses and miss the one on one opportunities to minister.” Church leaders must be pastors as well as preachers. As difficult as it can be to manage, we need balance excellence in preaching and worship with a depth of authentic relationships with the people we get to serve.

7. Leadership Issues. Lydia made a great point, “I think one thing that was left off the list is the preacher. If he decides to do things his way then he starts gathering a group that like him and they start making changes. I have grown up with more church fights and splits than I care to remember and the majority had to do with the preacher and him wanting to do everything and be in control of every thing including the money. In my opinion it is not the music that should be on the list but the preacher.” Power issues and a lack of servant leadership will kill a church almost quicker than anything else. As John Maxwell famously says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

8. Imitating Others. Chris wrote, “I would add to this list “Trying to ‘do church’ like another church”. Maybe we want to be like them and grow like them, i.e. Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church. It reminds me of Israel crying for a king because having judges wasn’t like everyone elses kingdom. Problem being, It’s Jesus kingdom, his kingly command, the great comission. Got to get outside the walls. Love people outside the walls for a birth so they will come indoors to grow.” I grew up in Southern California in the shadow of Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, so I know firsthand the temptation to imitate another church. I would caveat that it isn’t just a problem for contemporary churches. Many traditional churches imitate a mythical ideal of a church that existed for Andy Griffith in Mayberry. Every church needs to find its own identity in the community, not simply trying to transplant someone else’s approach.

9. Church Politics. LaDon suggested a great catch-all when he wrote, “No. 1 – Definitely should have been church politics!” It’s sad to admit that politics can enter a community of faith, but we all know it can. Many of the stories you shared in your comments can be boiled down to church politics.

10. Self. Kyle was right on when he wrote, “I think the #1 thing most “Christians” place before reaching people is THEMSELVES. Most Christians don’t care about the waitresses soul…especially if she’s not giving us good service. We don’t care about the soul of our neighbor…especially if they have a barking dog or screaming kids that bother us. We don’t care have a burden for the soul of the co-worker who gets on OUR nerves. Can music, buildings, traditions…etc get in the way of reaching people? Of course. But until ‘Christians’ get over themselves and start having a burden for people, we will not reach people for Christ.” Well said!


QUESTION: What else would you add to this list?

7 Things The Church Puts Ahead of Reaching People

On Monday I wrote a (surprisingly viral) blog post about 10 Things the Church Puts Ahead of Reaching People. I had no idea the chord I would strike with this post as it’s been shared over 6,000 times on Facebook and viewed over 37,000 times in the first four days. That post was a written version of what I shared verbally with my church in my most recent sermon. Here’s the video version of Monday’s viral post (I had edited it down to 7 Things for time constraints).

The Way Forward Past the 10 Things

I honestly didn’t know Monday’s post would strike such a chord with people (1000 Facebook shares and 6000 page views in two days). It was a written form of something I preached last Sunday. Apparently it resonated. According to my wife, it gave voice to something people have been feeling for years.


So now that I’ve opened up this pandora’s box of emotion, let me see if I can help chart a way forward. Here was the Next Step for Sunday’s sermon, the way we could put the truths we learned into action. Hopefully it can help you as well. It’s a simple (but not easy) way to reach people for your church: pursue people more than your preferences. Preferences are just that: preferences. Style of music, architecture, programs: all preferences. People, on the other hand, are eternal. Now, number 9 on the list (status quo) will hinder many churches from doing what’s necessary to change and reach people, but let me give you a glimpse of what it looks like when we pursue people more than preferences:

  • I shared yesterday about a young lady who came to Mt Vernon a few weeks ago. She grew up in the church, loved the church, and the church loved her, until she got a divorce. To her church, that was the unforgivable sin. She still wanted to be a part of her church, but they made her feel so unwelcome and judged that she left. And in her words, she stayed away from church for ‘far too long’ because she was so hurt, and only recently has she worked up the courage to venture back out into the church world. The reason she came to Mt Vernon? Someone pursued her. A friend, who knew her past, knew her present, and invited her anyways.
  • A wife who had stayed out of church for more than a decade following the death of her husband. In her words, she searched and searched but could never find a church home. She’s found a home now at Mt Vernon. How? Someone pursued her, her sister-in-law.
  • A young lady I met last week grew up as an Air Force brat. She moved around a lot and her family eventually settled out West. They couldn’t find a church they felt at home in so they just stopped going. Eventually she stopped believing in Jesus altogether because it seemed too unrealistic. Years go by, this young lady joins the Air Force like her father before her. She’s stationed here in Columbus, and someone pursued her. A friend from work who’d been going here for awhile invited her to come with her. This young lady came last Sunday, and when I met her she said this was the second time she had been in church in 11 years. All because someone pursued her and invited her.

That’s one part of the equation. We’ve got to be willing to pursue people more than our preferences. But as important as it is for church members to do that, churches as a whole have to do that as well. Too many of you have invited someone to church only for them to have a bad experience. So how can churches pursue people more than their preferences? If there was an easy or simple solution to that, I would sell it as a book and retire as a millionaire. There is no easy solution. But there is a solution. The best I can do is try and show you what it looks like.

In tomorrow’s blog I’ll share the steps we’ve taken at our church to try and create a culture of people that pursues people more than our preferences.


10 Things the Church Puts Ahead of Reaching People

You would think the Great Commission is clear enough: Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. Unfortunately, too many churches put other things ahead of reaching people. Here are 10 of the biggest:


  1. Location – Some people are tied to an address. Church is an address, a location. I’ve seen churches die because their people moved away and they weren’t willing to reach the new folks in their neighborhood.
  2. Buildings/Architecture – For some, the bricks and mortar are what make the church sacred, not the people. At my first church when our youth group exploded in growth we had to move into the sanctuary because it was the only room big enough for us. We had some ladies that were so concerned that every Thursday morning they would come into the sanctuary after our Wednesday nights and look up and down the pews for knicks or scratches. They were more concerned with the architecture then the people that architecture was designed to meet.
  3. Tradition – You knew this one would get in here. Tradition has killed many a church. When churches pursue the past more than they pursue people, that church will die. Many times preachers will preach on the last seven words of Jesus, the seven phrases Jesus said while on the cross. I’ll never forget what a Bible college professor told me once. He said, “Do you know what the last seven words of a church are? We’ve never done it that way before.”
  4. Music preferences – This one splits up more churches than perhaps anything else. We’re fine reaching the next generation for Jesus, as long as they like our music our way. That’s putting music preferences above people. And I’m not saying the contemporary music is the final answer. It’s not a particular style of music but the heart behind that’s willing to give up musical preferences to reach the next generation for Jesus. I’ve said this before, but when I’m older and I’ve got great-grandkids running around, I’m not sure what kind of church music they’ll like, but I guarantee you I probably won’t like it. The question is will I be willing to put reaching others ahead of my musical preferences?
  5. Programs – The early church reached their world for Christ and became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire without Sunday School, without VBS, without youth groups or children’s choirs. Church programs are designed to reach people, but we can never let them become more important than people.
  6. Control – Some churches are stifled because there’s a few families in control, and they simply don’t want to give up control. They put control ahead of reaching people.
  7. Social Status – The Bible says that in Christ there are no slaves or free or Greeks or Barbarians but we are all one in Christ. However, too many churches aren’t willing to reach people outside of their racial, economic, or social status.
  8. Cleanliness – Some churches aren’t willing to do the heavy lifting required, they’re not willing to roll up their sleeves and embrace the messes of the world. If we’re not willing to get a little dirty, we’ll never reach the world.
  9. Status Quo – Some churches simply don’t want to change. They’re good. The light bill is paid, the buildings are paid off, there’s enough of a crowd to give the illusion that something is happening. Some churches aren’t willing to embrace the change necessary to reach people.
  10. Religion – Put it all together, some churches put religion above people. They put their rituals, their observances, their routines, their beliefs, their ministry structures ahead of people. They feel like they’re loving God, but they don’t realize that you can’t truly love God if you don’t love people.

QUESTION: What other things would you add to this list?

In response to the popularity of this post, I’ve written several follow-up blogs tied to this one. Please check out:

10 (More) Things the Church Puts Ahead of Reaching People – a follow up post based off of your comments on this post.

7 Things the Church Puts Ahead of Reaching People – the video clip of the first time I ever shared the information from this post.

The Way Forward Past the 10 Things – how to begin to move past the problems toward the solution.

How One Church Changed to Reach People – a real life story of how one church changed to better reach people.

The First and Most Important Thing We Talk About at Every Staff Meeting

No, it’s not Bible or prayer. Although those are two very spiritual answers, the primary goal of Mt Vernon’s staff meeting* is not to have a Bible study, but to plan and maintain the health and growth of the church. As a guy that’s worked at a local church for thirteen years now, I’ve been to a myriad of staff meetings. There are basics you need to cover: the upcoming calendar, events, allocation of resources, any conflicts between staff members or programs, and of course, depending on the week, you deal with membership complaints.


But the first thing we talk about every week at Mt Vernon is incredibly intentional. It’s long. Sometimes it’s over the top. Yesterday it took up half of our time. The first and most important thing we talk about at every staff meeting* is people. Plain and simple. We talk about first-time guests. We figure out who they came with, who they’re related to, who else knows them. We share stories and victories (big and small) that we’ve seen in our church over the past week. We talk about needs and pray for them.

This past Sunday there were over a dozen new families that we identified as first-time guests. It took us an hour to finish our “people” portion of our meeting. But the reason we always start with people is because at the end of the day the church is not made up of programs, resources or buildings. The church is made up of people. People are always primary in importance.



*I use the term “staff meeting” because it’s common and familiar to most reading this post. For years that’s what we called it. About three months ago we went uber-hip and changed the name from “staff meeting” to “team collective” (stealing the idea from a conference we went to). Sounds much cooler, doesn’t it?

7 Ways to Have More Fun in Your Marriage

If your marriage is more about fighting then it is about having fun, then you’re off track from where God wants your marriage to be. Sunday at Mt Vernon I shared seven ways that couples can be serious about having more fun in their marriage:



1. Identify the biggest culprits crowding into your marriage space. What is it that is crowding into the space that’s reserved for you and your spouse? Is it a career? Is it the kids? Is it a hobby or an addiction? Is it another friendship? Once you identify it, you and your spouse can begin to talk about how to protect that space. More space for you and your spouse equals more fun.

2. Keep dating. You have to keep dating your spouse after you’re married. By the way, a date with the kids doesn’t count as a date. Dating equals fun, so date! Utilize the grandparents, dump your kids off on a babysitter or family friends. Make regular dating a priority.

3. Find a shared interest that’s yours alone. This is where it takes work and discipline. Find something you both like to do. For some it’s easy, for some it’s hard because your personalities are so different (which is fine). But find a hobby, an interest, something that’s yours alone with your spouse. It can’t be something from work or involve the kids. Keep working, keep digging, until you discover something both you and your spouse enjoy together. That leads to enjoyment in your relationship.

4. Get in shape. When you’re out of shape and overweight, you don’t have any energy. You get tired easier so you don’t have any energy for fun. If you’re out of shape, you also think more negatively about yourself. You don’t like how you look or feel. You’re less likely to initiate intimacy, because you feel unattractive. When you’re in shape, you feel better about yourself, you have more energy, you’re more positive, which all leads to fun.

5. Put your phone in a kitchen drawer when you get home. As much as I love technology, it kills intimacy with your spouse. It’s tough for a wife when she wants to sit and talk and connect but the husband is checking his email. It’s tough for a husband when the day’s finally done, the kids are in bed, he’s trying to throw out his best moves, but the wife doesn’t notice because she’s checking Facebook. Your phone is a distraction. Get it out of your hand. Don’t bring it into the bedroom with you. Putting your phone away will force you to interact with and connect with your spouse, which leads to fun.

6. Get the kids out of your bed. Some of you have no idea what I’m talking about. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. When the kids sleep with you, there’s no fun. It’s hard to make more babies when there’s one still in the bed. But more than just physical intimacy, your bed is the only physical space you and your spouse occupy that’s reserved for you alone. It’s where you can talk and connect, where you can start and end the day together. Don’t let the kids in there. And I know all the excuses. Don’t settle. Your bed is your space. Protect it. Get the kids out of the bed. As cruel as it sounds, let them cry themselves to sleep for a few nights in their room. They’ll get over it, and you’ll have more fun.

7. Have lots of sex. Here’s why this is so important: you are the only legitimate source of romance in your spouse’s life. Wives, you are the only legitimate source of romance in your husband’s life. If you’re not intentional about pursuing and initiating intimacy, then he’s more susceptible to illegitimate options. Husbands, you are the only legitimate source of romance in your wife’s life. You need to remember that romance doesn’t just mean sex. Romance starts with serving her, valuing her, talking with her. The goal is for both of you to have a healthy, enjoyable sex life. Remember that men and women are wired differently. Men are like a microwave. 30 seconds and they’re done. Women are like a crockpot. Intimacy can’t be rushed. Husbands, make sure that you’re meeting your wife’s sexual needs, and not just your own.

Work hard and have fun! The best way to protect your marriage is to enjoy your marriage.

Everyone Has a Story

12.12.12 copyEarlier this year my family went down to New Orleans for a short vacation. While there, I able to engage in a favorite past-time: people watching. “People watching” sounds much nicer than “creeping,” so I’ll stick with that.

Two guys captivated my attention while there. The first guy worked at the New Orleans Insectarium. He was in his late 20s, and he screamed ‘beatnik’ with his Shaggy-like beard. He looked like the guy who would hit the hippest coffee shop in town after work. Here’s my favorite part: his job at the Insectarium was to hold live roaches and let paying guests (like me) play with them and pet them. That’s what he did all day. He sat on a stool and played with roaches. Where was that job on Career Day in high school?

The second guy that captivated me was in the New Orleans Aquarium. While we were eating lunch in the Aquarium Food Court, he was sitting behind a portable hot dog stand, waiting to sell someone a hot dog. No one came. For the entire 45 minutes we ate lunch, no one came to his stand. So he just sat there, staring blankly into space, for 45 minutes. He was young, early 20s. He looked fit. If this is what he did all day, where did he find his purpose?

Have you ever encountered someone and tried to imagine what their life was like? Next time you see someone on the sidewalk, pay for gas, or have someone bag your food at the grocery store, try to imagine their life. What’s their story?

Your story is the sum total of your life experiences, your childhood, your difficult circumstances, your personality quirks that you inherited from your aunt, the twisting, winding road that brought you to where you are today. That’s your story. The question is, how many stories do we really know? If we don’t know someone’s story, we don’t know them.

Spend some time and find someone’s story this week. See what it does to you.

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