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What's the number one thing we can do to fill our churches? It's probably not what you think.
According to a new Gallup survey, the quality of the worship band isn't the main reason people go to church. Neither is it thriving kids' programs. Or even a dynamic personality behind the pulpit.
No, respondents said that "Sermons that teach about Scripture" are the reason they show up on Sunday mornings.
As Christianity Today reports, "Researchers found that 82 percent of Protestants and 76 percent of all regular worshipers consider sermons' biblical lessons as a major factor that draws them to services."
They also want application: "80 percent of Protestants and 75 percent of worshipers valued sermons that connect faith to everyday life."
Now it shouldn't really surprise us that people are hungry for truth in this post-truth, post-fact culture, especially when it's harder than ever to discern fact from fiction, reality from conspiracy theory.
Scripture tells us that God has "set eternity" in our hearts. Our first parents may have been expelled from the Garden, but we, their descendants, still cannot quite shake the memory of it.
Augustine knew something about this insatiable search for truth and beauty, writing in prayer to God, "Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you."
Jerry Root and Stan Guthrie quote G.K. Chesteron in their book "The Sacrament of Evangelism," people are 'homesick in their homes.' Chesteron knew that every time we lay our heads on our pillows at the end of the day, we lay them down in a foreign land.
Whatever our neighbors may say, whatever veneer they present, we know that many of them are hungry for what we've been given in Scripture--the Truth that is Christ Himself.
Matt Woodley says in Preaching Today's annual State of Preaching outlook, "In a distracted, outraged, shallow culture, people begin to hunger for something rare: the focused, balanced, and deep."
So it's time to, among other things, abandon the therapeutic-driven, self-centered sermons that characterize too much preaching these days.
As my "BreakPoint This Week" co-host Ed Stetzer recently pointed out, Oklahoma-based Life.Church is one of many congregations that has started beefing up its teaching in response to people we sometimes call unchurched.
"In other words," Ed says, "those for whom sermons were being dumbed down aren't dumb. They are interested in the truth or else they'd be out golfing."
The goal of church cannot be to out-entertain the world.
First, we can't. In a world of instant gratification, 24/7 communication access, and virtually limitless glowing rectangles clamoring for our attention, the church just can't win the entertainment battle.
Second, it shouldn't try. That's not what church is about, nor is it what people need. Gathering for worship, though it can be exhilarating--or, on some days, boring--isn't about entertainment, because it's not about us.
It's about meeting with God as a community of His people, giving Him His due, and being instructed, admonished, equipped, and encouraged by Him to join in His work, as Chuck Colson used to say, to make the invisible kingdom visible.
As Pastor Jared Wilson recently tweeted, "Someone will always have better coffee, music, facilities, and speaking. Showcase Christ and his gospel. No one can improve on that." And to that I say Amen.
We should encourage our pastoral leaders to prepare deep, biblical sermons and education offerings that rest firmly on the authority of Scripture.
This sort of thing requires hours of diligent study of the Word of God and prevailing, passionate prayer. There are no shortcuts if we are to end the tragedy of a church too often a mile wide and an inch deep.