Most of you know I spend a great deal of time reading about “mission,” what with being a Mission Pastor & all. On Mondays, I try to get your thoughts going about stuff I read. Today’s thoughts come from Jen Hatmaker in her book Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity.

It wasn’t a stellar start to be sure.

The G.P.A. was at 2.7 after my first quarter at university. But, hey. I was pledging a fraternity. I had taken 18 hours. Don’t even get me started on the reality that I had already changed my major during the summer orientation and was going to change it again after this quarter seemed to reveal some *ahem* weaknesses in my understanding of key principles of mathematics.

This was followed by a less-than-stellar winter quarter showing of a whopping 1.95. But, hey. I’d gotten stuck in a calculus class with a professor that had to bring a translator to class. I’d gotten the flu right after initiation weekend and missed a week. And there was the failed experiment of having all my classes in the afternoon. Note to self: You will *not* get up every morning and study.

Then in the spring I had a 2.9. But, hey. It was busy, man. We had Luau. We were cooped up after a cold winter and there were a few road trips to lakes and I couldn’t say no to all those softball teams who were looking for a ringer who wasn’t good enough to walk on the baseball team but would be a star in the rec leagues. Besides, I was changing majors…again. That’s 3 in 3 quarters if you’re keeping score.

In the couple of weeks I was home before heading back for summer quarter, I had a visit with my high school baseball coach. He was an English teacher at the high school, too, and the kind of coach who didn’t give a polite head-nod at the academic side of the equation. Naturally, he asked how my grades were (interestingly, he didn’t seem to care that I’d made the university softball all-star team and represented our school in an intercollegiate tournament) after getting caught up. Yes, I minimized the damage by grocery-listing the excuses.

“You know you’re not doing work you’re capable of doing, right, McKinney?”

The way he said it wasn’t negative. He was peculiar that way. He was one of those coaches who coached-up his guys, even when you struggled. He set expectations high and gave you the tools to get them. “Yeah, Coach. But pledging takes time…and that math-whiz who didn’t speak English…and we needed those road trips. College is stressful…and…”

“You never hear the winning team say the field was too muddy, McKinney. You know that. The scoreboard always tells you where you really are and you’re behind on your scoreboard. No excuses matter. You better make some changes.”

I knew he was right. So did he. We talked a little more about some specifics of how I could fix the problem. Funny, but I still remember the basics: Eat right. Sleep right. Exercise. Master planner with detailed specifics on due dates.

And I did that. Three squares a day. Weeknight bedtime (that earned shouts of “goodnight, Gramps” from my friends at 10:30pm). Hitting the gym. Day one come home with all the syllabi and log in dates and reading plans. Class from 8am to noon. Give yourself a lunch hour. Library from 1pm to 5pm whether you need to or not (find something to read and get ahead on if nothing was pressing). Got my first 3.0 that quarter…and never got below that again. The reality was that you could still find about 5 hours to goof off with friends or play intramural sports or whatever (job? What do you want with a job?) fun was happening.

See, the key to making changes was to face the facts: I was having fun instead of doing the one thing I was supposed to be doing at college. It took a caring coach to help me see it, but I had to face reality and then make some changes. I had a similar conversation with a doctor regarding high cholesterol, 40 pounds, and potential heart attacks many years later.

And Jen Hatmaker in the book linked above gives about four pages of detailed statistics (yes, they’re footnoted and from legitimate sources) that reveal that an overwhelming majority of folks are not ever going to come to our churches. Among them: 3 out of 10 twentysomethings attend church in a typical week, four out of 10 thirtysomethings and five out of 10 in their fifties or older (please tell me you see that as dangerous), over half of American churches did not add one new person because of conversion growth last year, and more than 80% of current church growth is by transfer or biology…meaning we’re just shuffling the deck or bringing our kids. And here’s a quote that got my brain engaged:

But no matter how you slice it, millions of Christians have left the organized church in the last twenty years, and we’re not drawing the next generation. The trend is clearly downward, and at this pace, reimagining church in America is not the task of mavericks; it will require a whole bride. This is happening. Stick you head in the ground like an ostrich if you wish, but perhaps it would be more helpful and courageous to admit we have a problem and begin dreaming up solutions.

The world is increasingly uninterested in our Christian story. Our current presentation is just not compelling. Most believers who represent it battle with boredom and apathy; they are spiritually immature and demonstrate religiosity without transformation. We launch public shame grenades with abandon to ‘love the sinner but hate the sin,’ which translates to ‘we are enormous pompous jerks.’ Our faith communities run the gamut from judgmental high church to feel-good talent shows, and people aren’t buying it anymore. Remarkably, most outsiders are not anti-church (our gospel isn’t provocative enough to incite backlash anymore); they simply dismiss the church as irrelevant to their real lives since it seems mostly irrelevant to the people who go there.

So, this is a drumbeat that is familiar to those long-term patron here at The Diner. But this comes from a fresh voice and one that should get your brains going today…so…

…first, do you agree that “what the scoreboard says we are” that we’re losing on our scoreboard? Why or why not?
…second, if you think we should make changes, what changes would you make?
…finally, do you agree or disagree with the idea that many outsiders are not anti-church but rather they see the church as irrelevant? Why/not? If yes, what could be done to change this?

That ought to get the conversation going, patrons. Grab your coffee and have at it!