Monthly Archives: June 2014

10 excuses people give for not attending church – 6/28/14

Many Christians feel they can go it alone regarding religion or religious attendance. They regularly and vigorously express these sentiments to me when commenting about my Church Visits articles or in response to my blog posts. It’s a national trend. Regardless of specific reasons or excuses, those expressing their disaffection quickly point out they reject corporate worship, organized religion and can worship by themselves at home or wherever. Many, however, still hold to their Christian beliefs.

It’s important to distinguish between excuses and reasons. Merriam-Webster defines excuse as “something offered as justification or as grounds for being excused,” while defining reason as “a sufficient ground of explanation or of logical defense.” Excuses are often offered as a way of making oneself feel better about not doing something, while reasons are used to explain, logically, why a course of action was pursued.

In the business world, working with decision-support system data, I often told my clients, there are “good sounding reasons” and “good sound reasons.” My mind likens good sounding to excuses and good sound to reasons.

A local pastor friend recently named the top three excuses or reasons parishioners give him for not attending church.

1. We’re so busy; our life is so full.

2. Our kids have a sports conflict.

3. It’s Alaska. We’re going to the cabin, fishing, hunting, boating or playing in the snow. (Choose all that apply.)

Another local pastor named his top three: too busy, not into organized religion and a previous bad experience with church. There’s no order to my list of 10 excuses below.

I have to get my life together first: This excuse is used as a means of covering for a person’s perceived inadequacy until he or she is finally better. Group religious practice is one of the means, not stumbling blocks, allowing this to happen.

I feel church members are all just hypocrites: A hypocrite is someone who says one thing but does another. It’s a human trait most of us tend toward. Church attendance can provide a mirror to recognize and effectively deal with it.

I think all churches care about is my money: If more churches were open and honest about this, money would not be as much of an issue. It’s often more a matter of perception than reality. Your presence in the church can be a force to address it.

I can’t measure up to church’s dress codes: Concerns about how any church dresses should never be an issue. Wear what you have and be proud of it. I’ve never seen or heard of any Anchorage churches with dress codes.

I get nervous about going to church: Nervousness can be due to bad experiences with a church, low self-esteem, performance anxiety, or many other issues. Almost everyone can be made to feel nervous about anything. When I started flying lessons, I was extremely nervous until I became more knowledgeable and ultimately confident.

What a church believes may differ from my personal beliefs: Belonging is an important benefit of attending church. Your beliefs will resolve themselves, but belonging is a very important part of religious experience. Corporate belonging was a very important characteristic of the early Christian church.

I work Sunday so can’t attend: Many individuals or couples get discouraged when one has to work on Sunday. However, a vast number of Anchorage churches offer Saturday evening or Sunday evening services to fit busy schedules.

If you knew my past, you wouldn’t want me in your church: Church offers the tools to resolve the issues in ones past. It’s like a hospital. Hospitals are for people who are sick or have something wrong with them. Churches are like hospitals for those needing spiritual care, which includes us all.

It’s rainy, snowy, icy, too hot, or too cold: Believe it or not, weather is often given as a reason for not going to church. One pastor observed that, given the way the church year splits into weather increments, only two days fall into churchgoing; Christmas and Easter.

I’ve been hurt by the church or its clergy: This has no limits as many have been wounded in many ways. It’s a top reason for skipping church. However, 1 Peter 3:9 offers an infallible remedy.

A generational and cultural divide is also affecting church attendance. In the 1960s, a shift away from the “we” generation to the “me” generation began. In 2012, the American Psychology Association published a fascinating study, “Generational Differences in Young Adults’ Life Goals, Concern for Others, and Civic Orientation, 1966-2009.” The study results indicate Millennials are the “Generation Me” instead of the “Generation We.”

A huge issue for the church today, it may explain why Millennials are so hard to reach. It’s all about them, with little room in their lives for church, God, grace and the love of Jesus. The bible notes this spiritual condition many times. Some label this condition narcissism.

A 2009 Pew Forum survey ranked Alaska next to the bottom (37 percent) regarding the importance of religion, bottom for church attendance, and almost bottom for frequency of prayer and belief in God. Prayer, bible study, and church attendance well may be antidotes for these trends.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits, at

Original ADN Article

Religious pluralism in Alaska here to stay – 6/21/14

This week a letter to the editor was published regarding a previous letter concerned that the Daily News showed anti-Christian bias by not doing more reporting on the recent Luis Palau extravaganza at Cuddy Family Park. Without my weighing in on the merits of the letter writer’s concerns, I will say it’s time to recognize that Alaska is becoming a pluralistic religion state. We’ll see more of this in the future. Let’s take a look at how pluralistic Alaska’s religious scene has become and where it may be headed.

According to the Pew Forum’s Religious Landscape Survey, published in 2008, the religious breakdown for Alaska shows some interesting data. Forty-seven percent of Alaskans are Protestant, 14 percent are Catholic, 4 percent are Mormon, 3 percent are Orthodox Christian and fewer than 2 percent represent other Christian faiths. Thus more than two-thirds (69 percent) of Alaskans identify with the Christian faith. Other faiths represent minor fractions. Muslims are 1 percent, while Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and other world religions show less than a half percent each. The “Other Faiths” category showed 2 percent. Finally, the 27 percent of Alaskans were classified as “unaffiliated.”

As a religion writer, I try to cover the major issues represented by all faiths. With more than two-thirds of faiths in Alaska being Christian-based, my coverage is identified immediately with this large cluster. The unaffiliated group is already covered by the rest of the media without requiring my involvement. This group is composed of atheists, agnostics or the uninterested. The other 4 percent of faiths combined are beginning to see increased coverage from me, but the facts betray that any one of these groups, at most, exceeds 1 percent of Alaska’s population.

Living here in the last frontier, are we more religious than other Americans? No, the Pew Forum Survey Summary says. “When it comes to religious beliefs and practices, the Landscape Survey finds that Alaskans tend to be less religious on a variety of measures as compared with the overall U.S. population. For instance, whereas a majority of American adults (56 percent) say that religion is very important in their lives, only 37 percent of Alaskans place great importance on religion. Nearly one-third of Alaskans (31 percent) say religion is not too important or not at all important in their lives, compared with only 16 percent among the public overall.”

But do we Alaskans, even though our religious numbers are smaller, make up for it by going to services more often? Once again, the Pew Forum says no. “Americans as a whole are nearly twice as likely as Alaskans to say that they attend religious services on a weekly basis (39 percent versus 22 percent). And nearly half of Alaskans (47 percent) say they seldom or never attend worship services, compared with only 27 percent among the public overall.”

Some churches are making gains here in Alaska. That’s according to an Association of Religion Data Archives 2010 report, which compared changes for Alaska congregations between 2000 and 2010 using data collected by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. The highest growth rate was in the Mormon faith, which added 13,151 adherents, a factor of 69 percent. Episcopalians grew by 541, Seventh-day Adventists by 520, Evangelical Covenant by 499 and United Methodist by 452.

The report also showed many churches experienced huge losses of adherents. These included Orthodox, Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutheran, Southern Baptist and Assemblies of God, to name the top loss groups.

The Luis Palau event, while questionable on several fronts, had serious backing by a significant number of local congregations. I believe the local media gave it fair coverage during prime time. During a recent visit with a local pastor, he pulled out a stack of individual responses from the Luis Palau organization which came back to him as a byproduct of the event.

Ours is a land of religious freedom and tolerance. The roots of Christ’s ministry were based on love and respect. In Matthew 22:36, Jesus was asked, by a lawyer of the Pharisees, “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV). This is the great “love to God” and “love to man” commandment.

Due to population growth here in Alaska, with significant numbers of people coming from areas of the world where Christianity may not be the dominant religion, it’s going to be increasingly important to honor the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and the Christian ethic of love to God and love to man. Attacking another’s religion is not the answer. There’s more than enough blame to go around. Our great challenge, as Alaskans, is reverse the trends of loss of faith and religiosity. Successfully doing this will stabilize our culture, strengthen our families and grow our state. Religious pluralism appears to be here to stay. We all can be more tolerant of others, regardless of religious biases.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits, at

Original ADN Article

Welcoming churches can reverse attendance slump – 6/14/14

The article, “Eight Reasons It’s Easier Not to Attend Church Today” on the blog of noted church consultant Thom Rainer, caught my eye. In Alaska, it’s no secret we’re leading a national trend in low church attendance.

A recent Gallop study showed Alaska near the bottom in the attendance column, with sixth lowest numbers at 33 percent (along with Hawaii and Oregon). That’s half the attendance rate of the top church attendance state, Mississippi, which has a 63 percent church attendance rate.

Rainer outlines several points, and I’ll address his reasons from my own observations based on over 10 years of experience in the Anchorage church community. These eight reasons impact the unchurched in many cases, and the churched as well.

It’s often not culturally expected for persons to attend church 

When I grew up, churchgoing in our family was not an option. Neither was it an option for most households in my neighborhood. Now, Sunday or Saturday is often a family day. Most people take it easier and do family-oriented activities. The weekends, for many people, have a slower pace with less frenetic activity than during the week.

Alaska is a huge outdoor-activity state, and many living here migrate to it for that purpose. That’s best seen in the summer, when churches trim services radically. However, the strong encouraging words of the apostle Paul say, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is,” Hebrews 10:25.

Congregational expectations of members’ attendance are lower

Church congregations no longer seem to notice which members are missing. In years past, a missing member or family might get a call, visit or note if they didn’t attend. People make other choices and are rarely missed. Maybe it’s a trip to the cabin, fishing or just taking a break. I’ve also seen this pattern in the service club I belong to. But to most of today’s churches, it’s no big deal.

Unchurched persons are often very demanding about the perceived quality of services

The focus of my writing for the past eight years has been this very issue. Most churches have one or two shots at attracting the unchurched. Unfriendly, inhospitable, entertainment-oriented churches clearly doing “church” for themselves turn away these seekers.

Many church members are less friendly to guests today

There are many Anchorage churches I’ve attended that didn’t greet me. I’ve even returned two or three times to the same result. These behaviors do not go unnoticed by guests. Today’s generation is more “me” oriented. After all, isn’t it “all about me”? This “me” attitude affects church members’ ability to reach out to others.

Churches do not emphasize involvement in groups as much as they used to

A few churches make groups a priority, but many have little to do with them. Groups bring people together and keep them together. It may be a men’s or women’s Bible study group, a Christian book or film group, or shape note singing group. It becomes a kind of cultural glue.

A teacher colleague attends ChangePoint, Alaska’s largest church. I asked her how she and her husband dealt with its bigness. Laughing, she told me they discovered that sitting in the same area of the church each week they began to make friends with people in the same area. They are now a “church within a church.”

Most churches have no clear purpose

I see this often in Anchorage. Many of these churches are inwardly focused, satisfying themselves with musical entertainment, a comfortable liturgy and a nice fellowship experience aided by good coffee and palatable food. Heaven forbid an uncomfortable sermon is delivered.

Local community work to fulfill the commands of Jesus goes sorely lacking

Some members and pastors love to support expensive, short-term mission trips to foreign lands while local Alaska needs go unaddressed. In my local service group, members who love this kind of dynamic are called “knife and forkers.”

Most churches have no clear plan of discipleship

Training disciples should be the work of churches, but many don’t have this view. Jesus’ ministry really began when he selected his disciples. He trained them, gave them practical experience and sent them out to do his work.

Forward-thinking churches do the same. It’s the tried and true “form, storm, norm and perform” approach to successful ventures. Everyone from soldiers to CEOs and successful pastors have been using this approach for centuries. It is by no means dated.

The typical church in America is a low-expectation church

When churches expect little, they usually achieve it. Many set low expectations. They have poorly maintained facilities, hard-to-read signs, inadequate parking, untrained greeters and bulletin passers and do not practice an inclusive service that purposely puts arms around members and guests. Last year I attended a service where the pastor, and the pastor only, was on the podium from the first song to the last song. I was not made to feel welcome, and when I asked him about it I was brusquely told, “That’s the way it is and will not change.”

All these issues can be addressed, and should be. There are many “best practice” churches out there that are succeeding in doing so. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Anchorage became known for reversing these trends and setting an example for the rest of the nation?

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits, at

Original ADN Article

Crosspoint Community Church Revisit

Sunday, May 11 found me entering Crosspoint Community Church for a revisit. My last visit to Crosspoint was posted over 5 ½ years ago. That visit review can be accessed HERE . When I have a less than satisfying visit, longer intervals creep into my revisits. This of course is what happens to church guests with unsatisfactory visits, except they’re unlikely to ever revisit. My revisits sometimes feel like a tedious job, but occasionally I find there have been miraculous changes in congregational behaviors.

What Greeting?
The sole door greeter cheerily greeted me with “Happy Mother’s Day”, an unhappy reminder my mother is no longer here, passing several years ago. In need of a strong cup of coffee, I went to their coffee stand and paid for an Americano with a couple of espresso shots. The nice woman working the stand basically said nothing to me, a missed vital connection to the church. I was reminded of this humorous video where coffee and churches was linked. For a good, but introspective laugh, watch it: If Churches Marketed Like Starbucks.

Conspicuous Seat
Going in and finding a front row seat in order to be conspicuous to the congregation, I sat a couple of chairs away from the pastor. At no time did he greet or acknowledge me. [img_assist|nid=164163|title=Crosspoint Praise Group Performing – May 11, 2014|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=194]

Whatever Became of “We Invite You to Stand and Join Us in Praise to God in Song”?
The service started a few minutes late with the command “Please stand up”. This church believes that you must stand for the music. The praise group of seven worked their way through seven songs while we were standing. As with my previous visit, they were basically unsmiling through their music set, as if they were doing a job instead of conveying Good News. Many in the congregation were not singing, just listening. The sound level was initially 85-100 db but at the end was consistently hitting 105 db. That’s a bit loud for any music in a confined space.

My Mother is Gone
The audience was then told to say Happy Mother’s Day to those around you. A little general for me, considering many were not mothers or had lost their mothers.

All Were Asked to Give
The morning offering was taken and no one was excepted from giving. Excepting guests from giving is one of the most guest-friendly actions any church can do, but one I rarely hear. Asking for money turns out to be one of the greatest turn-off’s for guests.

Sermon Impersonal
Pastor Dave Van Berkel delivered the sermon. You can listen to it HERE. Be sure to select May 11 as the sermon date. Warning, any clips he played cannot be heard as the sound is not tied into the recording. This was sermon 3 in a series called ‘Transformed’. Van Berkel was tied to his notes and it didn’t seem as though he was talking to me. Essentially the sermon was a meditation based on Psalm 23. One good thing was that he spoke of the Sabbath in a detailed manner, a first for my 15 years of living in Anchorage and attending local churches. Van Berkel’s sermon ran 35 minutes.

Sole Contact Departing
Leaving the church, no one said anything to me except Pastor Dave Kuiper who has gone on to other roles in the community. During my two visits, Pastor Kuiper was the only one who spoke to me both times. One might conclude this is an unfriendly church not eager for guests. I suspect it will be another five years or so before I visit this church again.

Website Needs Work
Their website is functional, containing scrolling marquees, but no information about where they worship without scrolling to the bottom of the page and finding it inconspicuously hidden in tiny print down there, hard to read. If one does not know how to enlarge web pages, they wouldn’t know where to go. Two things every potential guest wants to know is where to meet and when. The “when” is supplied by one of the scrolling marquee pages but the “where” is not. This could and should be quickly remedied.

Five ways to improve your Bible literacy – 6/7/14

In a May 2 column I addressed the appalling lack of Bible literacy among Christians. I also mentioned I would follow up in a future column with ways to increase biblical literacy. This is that column.

Before attempting to increase your biblical literacy, you must really have a desire to change your literacy quotient. Do you care about knowing more of your Christian heritage, or does it even matter at all? If you don’t care, then it’s pointless to read further. On the other hand, if you do care, there are many ways to proceed. Here are five suggestions. Most important, remember the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 10:17: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Obtain a Bible you are comfortable reading

Hundreds of biblical translations are available. I recommend that the version you pick should not be the work of one man but of a committee of scholars who have brought a balanced discipline to the hard work of translating. For example, the King James Version was translated by a committee of 47 scholars. The Bible in American Life study released by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, a joint effort by Indiana University and Purdue University Indianapolis, reports that 74 percent of translations are represented by just two versions: the King James Version (55 percent) and the New International Version (19 percent). When you add in the New Revised Standard Version (7 percent), 81 percent of Bible reading is represented by only three versions.

Read or listen to the Bible every day

Daily reading of the Bible, even only a couple of verses, pays in the long run. You can read the printed text, use a Web-based version, or take advantage of a smartphone has an excellent Web-based tool that includes 45 different English translations, all free to use.

There are many excellent ways to listen electronically. I recently downloaded the English Standard Version, an excellent recent committee translation, as one of my Audible monthly book selections. Narrated by actor Max McLean, it also features an orchestral soundtrack, which highlights but does not overpower the narration. Churches often offer a Web app that allows you to read or listen to the Bible. ChangePoint, Alaska’s largest church, has that function in their smartphone app. It uses the ESV and can be read or listened to. Their app also includes a handy Bible reading plan with a daily selection to read or listen to.

YouVersion, a free smartphone version, offers 39 different English versions for instant online or offline access. Often, I’ll switch between versions during a pastoral reading of a text, to see if there are minor translation points that might help me better understand the text.

Quiz yourself regularly

Many Web-based quizzes are available so you can assess how your biblical literacy is progressing. One such quiz source is, which offers free assessments and can send you a daily question to answer. You can choose to be quizzed on the Old Testament, New Testament or the entire Bible. I enjoy taking quizzes to see what sticks and what doesn’t. The site provides biblical references to missed questions so learning can become a game and so you can find sources to study if your knowledge proves weak. Dozens of Bible quizzes are available free. Just Google search “free Bible quizzes.”

Listen to Bible-based sermons

The Internet is a rich source of strong Bible-based sermons you may not hear locally. Over the years, I’ve discovered that Tim Keller, John MacArthur, N.T. Wright and Walter Brueggemann are a select few theologians offering discourses rich with biblical meaning and free of misguided theologies. Their talks can be printed or downloaded, and many are on YouTube. Sometimes, these talks are to other pastors or theologians and can be quite dense. I suggest looking for their shorter talks, ones that are about 15-30 minutes long. Save the longer talks for later. These men are communication experts and will help you learn your Bible easily.

Join a Bible study group

Many local churches offer men’s or women’s Bible study groups. Generally they meet for an hour and cover a predetermined section of Scripture. For example, a group might march through the Gospel of Mark in 16 weeks (a weekly meeting for each chapter).

These five suggestions are just that. There are many ways to address biblical illiteracy but following any of these suggestions will have a marked impact on this major national problem. If we want to learn how to cook, we acquire cooking knowledge books and cookbooks, becoming familiar with their contents. Want to learn to fly? You must study, take a test, obtain hands-on flying instruction and get tested on that too. Becoming familiar with the Bible is learning about your destiny and how to achieve it. It’s worth the effort and promises great rewards.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits, at

Original ADN Article