Today is National Back to Church Sunday. My family and I won’t be inviting people to “come back to church.” In fact, we won’t even be going to church. Today is actually the first Sunday of a new phase in our family’s life: not attending church anymore, at all. We are five of the 8 million people this year that will leave the church, according to the National Back to Church Sunday website that defines my family and I as “un-churched.”
That’s where they’re wrong. We’re not “un-churched.” We are, what my husband and I have jokingly (but kinda seriously) dubbed ourselves as: “dis-churched.”
Perhaps it sounds like semantics. I guess it’s rather like the naked/nude distinction that was explained to me long ago. “Naked” is when you’re without clothing and you are embarrassed, ashamed or caught unclothed when you didn’t expect to be. “Nude” is when you are without clothing and you like it! It’s not so much that our family doesn’t have a church (un-churched). It’s that we don’t have a church and we are choosing to not have one (dis-churched).
It’s all rather ironic, though. I didn’t even know today was going to be National Back to Church Sunday until a couple days ago when I was doing research and stumbled across the website. I’ve known for months that today was going to be the first time no one in our family would be going to church. After much thought, discussion and listening to hearts, we’ve decided that we are going to spend Sundays as a family, either here at home or doing something fun and exciting together, out and about, for an indefinite period of time.
Both my husband and I grew up going to church every week and, until the last couple years, we usually went to church together and took our three children with us. Why we aren’t going to be attending church any longer is really not the point; there are dozens of reasons why. The point is that James and I have decided that we want to spend Sundays together, as a family, teaching our kids, being with our kids, hanging out with our kids and generally enjoying one another as we do so.
It’s exciting. It’s also sad. It’s a kind of “end” of one era and “beginning” of another. The era we’re moving out of wasn’t terrible, all bad or even mostly bad. We’ve had good experiences in church. It’s more that the new era we’re beginning is something we believe is important and positive for ourselves, our children and our family as a whole. It just feels right.
According to the website, though, are five of the 8 million people that leave the church each year. That’s over 150,000 every Sunday. Though we are consciously, soberly choosing to not attend church, according to the website, we are some of the very people Christians would like to bring back into the proverbial fold today.
I remember when I was comfortable in an evangelical church and felt it was part of my responsibility as a Christian to extend the invitation to the un-churched individuals in my life to come with me on Sunday. I felt like it was the loving thing to do, partly because I pretty much assumed that if someone wasn’t attending church regularly, they were “not right with God.” According to my evangelical beliefs, there was a good chance someone like that had not accepted Jesus’ offer of salvation, and therefore would spend eternity in hell. I remember feeling a lot of guilt over feeling too embarrassed to invite them to hear more about Jesus and/or attend my church. I “get” why someone would feel it was loving to invite me.
Now I’m one of those people who is not at church today. But don’t need an invitation to return. If an acquaintance who didn’t know me well invited me to church I’d politely thank them and refuse the invitation, knowing they meant well. However, anyone I know well knows the “why” behind my not attending church; they know that I’m excited about the new adventure my family and I are embarking on together. For someone who knows me to invite me to church would be to simply not SEE me; I am not “not going to church.” I am doing something else besides going to church, by choice.
Here’s the thing, though: when I think about who Jesus was, I just can not imagine him inviting someone to church on National Back to Church Sunday. Maybe it’s because I’m someone that might have gotten invited to church today if an acquaintance was participating in the national event, but I can’t help wondering how someone will feel today, as they sit next to their friend in the pew and receive the news, one way or the other, that today is the day when their friend was “supposed” to invite them to church.
I know how I’d feel if I was sitting next to a friend I’d received an invitation to church from and I heard the pastor say, “Well, look at all the new faces today! I’m so pleased with the wonderful turn-out for National Back to Church Sunday. It looks like a lot of you brought your friends or loved ones today.” I’d feel like a project. I’d feel like a tally mark. I’d feel like a notch in my friend’s Christian belt. I’d feel tricked. I’d feel invalidated. I’d feel not seen.
I’m a person who hasn’t been to church in about two years. My husband went a little longer than I did. My kids have been going with their grandparents until today. I am not just one of the 8 million people who “just need to come back to church.” I am not at home today because I didn’t receive an invitation to church. I am not a “dis-churched” person because I hate God, love sinning, like to sleep in on Sundays, didn’t get the bridge illustration explained to me or had a bad experience.
I’m dis-churched today because I’m a person who has made a very purposeful decision to be that way. There are millions of people who, like me, don’t need or want an invitation to church today, or any day. We want to have authentic relationships with people, including those who happily attend church or who don’t. We want to be seen as the thinking, feeling, conscientious people that we are.
We don’t go to church…and we like it.