This is not about your building or your music or your PowerPoint slides.
There is not a trendy foyer in the world with the power to bring us wandering back.
After all, there’s not much you can say to us that we haven’t already learned in some Sunday School classroom somewhere. We know the Bible stories. We heard them over and over, year after year until they became part of our blood, part of our bones.
We’ve heard a thousand sermons. We recited Scripture on Wednesday nights and earned shiny little jewels for plastic crowns. We know the “right answers.” We know the Ten Commandments and the Fruits of the Spirit and how to “lead someone to Christ” with five Bible verses and a three-minute testimony.
We left quietly at age 14 when we joined the drama club, and it felt more like family than youth group ever did. We left in a huff at age 17, angry and rebellious, slamming the church door behind us. We left at 19 when we gave in to passion in some parked car somewhere – left after a dozen sermons and well-meaning Christian speakers told us that in surrendering our virginity, we had surrendered our worth. That we were broken beyond repair.
We stayed the course for a long time. We led the small groups, sang on the worship team, and you told us that we would change the world for Jesus. And then we went to Christian college, where people looked at us side-eyed and dared us to prove our faith. We turned inward, faded out, faded away.
We left after long hours praying for healing that never came. We left when the Christian Girls and the Mean Girls were the same girls. We disappeared into Depression. We walked out of a funeral service of someone too young, and we never stepped foot in a church again.
We left for a hundred different reasons, none less real or important than the other.
Once, we believed quickly and entirely, our faith in the church people and in God all tangled into each other. We believed that you who loved God would be different, and no one ever confessed that Christians are broken too. We felt the knife-stab of hypocrisy at some point, and it is a wound that never really healed.
So we sit, arms crossed at the edge of it, hypersensitive to your failures and your faults. We have spent the last several years honed in on our bullshit detectors, critical and cautious. We are constantly aware of the darkness: yours and ours. The whole wide world, broken and dying, hurling herself into the abyss.
We hear your bewildered conversations about how so many of us have left the church. You are head-scratching, writing books, trying to pinpoint the problem. You are feeling powerless to stop the mass exodus of a generation.
You are looking at your church bulletin, wracking your brains, trying to figure out what you could offer us to make us come home.
But this is not about a program. We will see right through that flyer you stick in our mailbox. We have been bait-and-switched before, and we’re suspicious. We were raised on a steady of diet of ads and commercials, after all – we know when you’re trying to sell us something.
We need you to fight for us.
We need to be more than a number, an attendance card in the offering plate. A statistic.
We need you to come to where we are.
Come out of the church offices and the Christian bookstores. Turn off the local Christian radio station and hear us.
(Sometimes, I think that’s all it would’ve taken for me. Some church stranger to sit down next to me and just say, How are you really doing? Not, You really ought to join the women’s ministry. Not, Just get plugged in! Just How are you doing? Just someone interested in just listening. Just someone to mean it.)
We can see through every trick, and we are not looking to be someone’s success story. This will not be a quick fix; you can’t just slap a little redemption on this mess and call it good.
We need you to sit with us in the mad season for as long as it takes. We need to hear your stories – the messy ones, the hard parts. We need you to tell us the pain of it without skipping ahead to the happy ending.
Maybe we can face our darkness if you are honest about yours.
We are weary and bitter and deeply broken. We can see through everything…
Except for maybe love.
And this probably won’t look like revival. It won’t look like much at all, and we need you to be the one group of people in this whole appearance-driven world who are okay with that.
We need you to measure your success not in results but in faithfulness. In coffee cups and late night phone calls. In glasses of wine and sharp fragments of story.
We need every single one of you. We need you brave in the face of our anger, kind in the midst of our bitterness. We need you every day. We need you here not there.
We are tired and we are cold, and we are looking for a reason to come.
Be the reason.
Light a candle. Take our hand, and walk with us.
Remind us what Jesus looks like: arms open, eyes full of love. Help us see him there, sitting with us in the anger, waiting.
Help us. Love us. Join us. And, maybe, we’ll find our way home.