In a recent commentary on Nehemiah, the author referred to 'religious nominalism', meaning, people who believe in God, but never attend church except for maybe Easter and Christmas, thus creating problems for Christian leaders. The emphasis was on the people not being committed to attending church, but I would reverse the argument and say the problem was on the church not being committed to the people.
Let me explain my position ( this is where the gripe comes in!). As a child, I really loved Sunday School and going to church afterwards, but looking back, it really was rather boring compared to today's standards. The bishop rarely prepared a sermon - you could tell when he did for he was a good teacher - and the Sunday School lessons were dull, but God loved me there and then and has kept loving me since. Later, the youth group was really good, with great activities and Bible studies, but there was a lot of conforming to be done. Just don't behave outside the accepted guidelines. When I moved to another part of Sydney, I was quite shocked at the lifestyle of the people on my Beach Mission team - so very liberal to what I had known, but they were great Christians. I had a lot of learning to do.
When we moved to the Whitsundays 40 years ago, our region was thinly populated, so all the Christian churches worked together. I ran the Lutheran Sunday School, played the organ at the Uniting Church and later Lutheran service, then the Anglican service and helped out at the Baptist church when needed. I even gave a children's talk at the Catholic Christmas service. However, over time things changed and as more churches became Pentecostal, they withdrew into their own groups. As ministers became younger, so they became more arrogant - no idea why - and the congregations, more conservative and withdrawn as well. Unfortunately, as for new ideas....... One denomination did a lot of very good fundraising, so I suggested this be used as outreach as the community loved those functions. How about a short prayer by the minister or a one sentence invitation to learn more about Christianity - I heard that done in the most loving and inviting way at St Paul's Cathedral London- but no! not appropriate for a function like this. And so went the way of new ideas.
I started 'Carols By Candlelight' soon after coming here, and it was later taken over and expanded by the churches, but now it is organised by Rotary and is a secular event. The church in the Whitsundays is now invisible to the community. Last Christmas, the combined churches had an ecumenical Christmas service, but did not invite the community - so much for outreach and mission. The last church meeting I attended, ( a number of years ago) I commented that I was concerned that the government was taking over so many roles which the church had traditionally undertaken, so should we not make a renewed commitment to ministry in our community? Shock horror. Again, so much for new ideas.
I could recount many more negative examples and not just about churches from this area, but even I am becoming melancholy dredging up things best forgotten. What I am observing in the churches in which I have been 'involved' is that they become Christian clubs where new members should conform to the attitudes of the group, and please don't dare suggest anything new. Now, for a committed Christian, God is always teaching us new ways of relating to him and to others, so why would the church not do the same? I could make some suggestions but they would not be pretty.
Churches, like all organisations/businesses, must relate to the people to whom they are trying to reach and that takes a lot of energy and can even make some people feel quite uncomfortable. Just look at how Jesus interacted with the religious leaders of his day. But if the church is to grow, it must fulfill Jesus' commission to 'go.....' even if that world is not a comfortable place to be.
But the most depressing thought of all, I now realise, is, if I did find the perfect church, I would be the first to contaminate it, for I am a sinner, just like all the other people who go to church.
But wouldn't it be great to be wanted for what I can contribute, and not be limited to what I am told to contribute. At least I have many happy and satisfying memories!!!!! Praise God for that!