Nanowrimo is not happening for me this year, but I’m trying to write everyday in November. I’ll be posting fragments of what I write here daily, edited very lightly for clarity and grammar. Here’s post #6.
If you assume that behaviors are our most reliable indicator of people’s beliefs (not what people say they believe, or think that they believe, but which values actually determine the day-to-day choices of their lives), then we should be able to empirically test whether the ecclesial communities who claim to follow Jesus actually do so in a way that is meaningfully different than the rest of the general population.
And, if you are one of those sorts who are skeptical that the most important things in life can be measured, that all the real transformation happens invisibly on the inside, then let me introduce you to a couple people who would strongly disagree with you: Jesus and Paul….And what are the fruits of the spirit, you may ask? Are they, as some church growth models suggest, things like increased budgets, more members, or more butts in the seats for Sunday worship? No, they are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” In other words, *precisely* the sort of visible, concrete habits that your neighbors and friends will notice. You want to know whether you’re actually engaged in a living relationship with God? See what’s actually coming out of your life to know whether you’re deceiving yourself or not.
In case you’re wondering, a few of these studies have been done (often by religious organizations, such as the Barna Research Group and Willow Creek Church) to evaluate the fruit of churchgoers and do you know what they’ve discovered about whether they show any evidence that would indicate a living, transformational with God?
The very simple answer is that they don’t.
In other words, church, as we commonly call it, makes no more difference in making you more like Jesus than being part of your local Kiwanis, going to a certain local McDonald’s, or occasionally visiting the gym.
No difference at all.