Making God Real to a Skeptical Public

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It’s true. Most people avoid church. They’re not interested.
But, that doesn’t mean they’re disinterested in God.

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Here’s the problem. The population perceives that the church has
taken its eye off its primary focus. Jesus has been sidelined by
other, shinier things. As we conducted research for our new
book 
Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore
, we
heard a number of things that distract people from the church’s
true focus:

  • Social issues
  • Political issues
  • Church financial needs
  • Celebrity pastors
  • Showy worship
  • Sin and damnation
  • Rules
  • Theological minutiae

These things tend to repel the unchurched-and they distract
regular churchgoers from the main focus. God gets upstaged. Only 44
percent of faithful churchgoers say they regularly experience God
at church.

But 88 percent of the population say that faith is important to
them. They desire to grow closer to God.

How does the church respond to this desire? Too often it
responds with more teaching, more information, more rhetoric. Some
leaders say, “The problem is biblical illiteracy.” That may be an
issue, but it is not the core problem. The problem-as it was in
Jesus’ time-is far more basic.

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The public-unchurched and churched alike-is dying to be assured
that God is real, alive, active, and present in their lives today.
This isn’t complicated. They simply yearn for evidence, for
reminders, that God exists, and loves them, and is personally
interested in them. This hunger is felt even by longtime church
members who’ve sat through hundreds of sermons and Bible studies.
They know the information. But they desperately crave the
inspiration, the close presence of God.

DIVINE ANTICIPATION

This angst connects to one of the “4 Acts of Love” we
advocate in the book. We call it Divine Anticipation. People are
looking for God. But they need help. Here’s where the church can
enter in and help people see that the living God is not an aloof
concept or merely an historical figure.

Divine Anticipation is a practice that beckons the church to
focus on the main thing-a relationship with Jesus. Divine
Anticipation equips people with God-colored glasses, so they see
God in action-today and every day. Everywhere. God becomes a real
and constant companion, not just a remote subject to be
studied.

So, how can a church help create Divine Anticipation? A few
ideas to get you started:

  1. Keep the focus clear. It’s simple:
    connect people with God. Faith is a relationship. It is not an
    academic subject, or a soap box, or a show.
  2. Elevate the present tense. Sure, share
    the historical, biblical accounts of how God acted thousands of
    years ago. But always balance that with present-day “God
    sightings.” Share microphone time with real people who bring real
    stories of God who is active in their lives.
  3. Make God watchers. Train people to
    recognize God’s hand. Go beyond the pastor’s personal sermon
    illustrations, and help people make their own discoveries of God’s
    presence in circumstances, in relationships, in nature,
    in “coincidences.”
  4. Allow time for God to act. Be lavish with
    time for silent prayer. Provide experiences for people to encounter
    God in tangible ways. Refrain from tight scripts that leave no time
    for the spontaneity of God. Be prepared to let the agenda bend with
    God’s moves.
  5. Validate your progress. Regularly survey
    people to see if they experience God. (We ask every week in
    Lifetree Cafe. Typically over 80 percent report they experience God
    during the Lifetree hour.
    If ever it slips, we make changes to ensure we create more space
    for God to act.)

Professional staff often make assumptions about their people’s
spiritual state. That leads to answering questions no one is
asking. People today long for the tangible presence of the real,
living God in their lives.

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About Author

Thom Schultz

Thom Schultz is an eclectic author and the founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. Holy Soup offers innovative approaches to ministry, and challenges the status quo of today’s church.

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