Is the Casual Approach to Church Producing Casual Christians?

it's worseIt is worse than it looks!

It doesn’t  matter which study you read about the church, because they all say pretty much the same thing:  The church is in decline.

The church is in trouble.  I don’t need to read a study to know this.  I have observed it over the years in countless churches that I have visited.  Churches are weak and though they may have exciting services, they are largely failing to develop strong, grounded and mature Christians.  The church at large (there are exceptions, of course) is also failing to impact the lost around her.

The statistics on this are over-whelming and should stop every pastor and leader dead in their tracks so that we immediately fall on our knees to cry out to the Lord “What are we doing wrong?”  Sooner or later that will have to happen.  Let’s pray it is the former!

Is This Decline the Result of a Flawed Church Model?

I have a theory.  It goes something like this:  The decline we are seeing in the church is directly related to the causal “Worship”model of doing church.  This model is the most widely used church model in America.  It is the “come as you are, enjoy your coffee while listening to some great music, and catch a short inspiring message that is always relevant for your life whether you believe in Christ or don’t.  We won’t ask anything of you, and we won’t expect anything from you.  Just come!”

Of course, church leaders knew this wasn’t enough to develop faithful followers of Christ.  The idea was that eventually, these causal observers would come to know Christ and their lives would be transformed into on-fire followers of Jesus Christ who would go to the ends of the world for their faith and perhaps even be willing to die for Christ.

That is not what has happened!

In 2009, Barna came out with a book called The Seven Faith Tribes: Who They Are, What They Believe, and Why They Matter.  In the study that preceded the book, Barna discovered that 66% of Americans are what he calls “Casual Christians”. Here is how he defines them:

“Casual Christianity is faith in moderation. It allows them to feel religious without having to prioritize their faith. Christianity is a low-risk, predictable proposition for this tribe, providing a faith perspective that is not demanding. A Casual Christian can be all the things that they esteem: a nice human being, a family person, religious, an exemplary citizen, a reliable employee – and never have to publicly defend or represent difficult moral or social positions or even lose much sleep over their private choices as long as they mean well and generally do their best. From their perspective, their brand of faith practice is genuine, realistic and practical. To them, Casual Christianity is the best of all worlds; it encourages them to be a better person than if they had been irreligious, yet it is not a faith into which they feel compelled to heavily invest themselves.”

Our churches are full of these exact people.  Don’t misunderstand me, I am glad they come.  Yet, I think most pastors would agree that having a host of casual followers was not what Jesus had in mind when he allowed himself to be nailed to a cross in our place.  Let us be careful not to lay the blame for this on the Casual Christian.  After all, they just took us at our word and took us up on our offer!

When you stop to consider the type of half-way followers that our church models are producing it should make us question the model.  Shouldn’t it?    Think about it:  God invites each one of us to a life of radical transformation:  to become more like Him.  He beckons us to leave the mundane things of this life behind so that we can more and more reflect the true image of God in our own lives.  The early church produced people like this.  Our churches are not!  Instead, well-meaning as we may have been, we have promoted a semi-christian life that may actually be more harmful than helpful.  In a way, we are promoting something that is not real or authentic.  Our church models may even border on being deceptive.  I don’t think this causal christian thing is an accident.  It is the natural product of a poorly designed model.

Before you grab the rope and kindling and Google my address, you should know that I am aware that there are exceptions to this.  You may be one of those people who is faithfully following Christ because you attended a church with this model.  I don’t discount that and my thoughts here are not intended to take anything away from your journey. At the same time, I don’t think church leaders should judge a model by the exceptions.  We should judge it on what it normally produces.  I think it is clear that the church is producing these casual Christians.  That is not fair and it needs to change.


About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on October 1, 2014, in Christianity, Church Leadership, Contemporary Church Culture, Worship and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Great article, Jim. My first thought, based on my experience, is that no one is going to do anything about the casual Christians being the much larger part of most churches because doing something about it is going to drive most of those casual Christians away rather than convert them. Less people means less giving, and less giving means less salaries and late payments on rent and utilities.

    Correcting the model you describe is a terrible business strategy. It might do good for the kingdom of God, but it will be terrible for the accounting reports.


    • Paul, as former pastors, you and I both know that your comment about paying the bills is true! The church at large is trapped within this model. If it will take courageous leaders who know what to do and have the courage to cut staff, cut expenses and get a paid job outside of ministry so they can volunteer their time, and do what is best for the people of God.

      We certainly do NOT need one more church plant that utilizes this model!


  2. Now couple this with churches that have “Casual Christian” members. And ones that try, and succeed, to get elected to leadership boards and positions (it’s easier to get elected with similar beliefs if your church membership is stacked with like-minded folks). Will they stick their necks out when a hot topic issue comes before them or will they let it slide so as to avoid attention and controversy?… What about church discipline?! How could they ever do that?


  3. Reblogged this on The Rest of the Old, Old Story and commented:
    While our solutions won’t match, this blogger excellently portrays the problem inherent in post-Constantine churches, Protestant and Catholic alike. It is more accomodating than I would be, which may help those who disagree to be willing to consider the message.


  4. theebloominidiot

    Jesus said,

    The road is narrow and few will follow it.

    He said

    That many who cry out Lord, Lord , will be turned away on account of Him not knowing them.

    He summarized just how the weeds got into the field of wheat and what to do about it….

    ” 27 And the servants[b] of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” Matt: 13:27-30

    You say the church model is responsible, but it has ALWAYS been like this. I believe Jesus indicated the enemy was to blame.

    Which of us will judge those in the assembly as true believers or too casual?

    Isn’t that the Master’s job?

    So, that being said…..any church Casual or as rigid as steel, must be diligent in presenting the TRUTH, because the enemy is sowing weeds in our midst. We as A (singular, united) CHURCH must get the WORD out to as many as we can, teaching them to become disciples……

    What ever model is used!


    • Hi Bloomin Idiot! (I’m not insulting him, that’s his WP name!)

      I think the point I was making is that study after study after study indicates that the church is not presenting the truth, at least not clearly enough.

      Barna conducted another study that clearly shows christian’s are less and less knowledgeable of basic bible truths. We discussed in an article called “the Seeker Sensitive Church Model Dumbing Down Disciples. You can read it here:

      My question is why? Why is this happening. It is easy to blame the devil. Though I don’t doubt his involvement, I do believe our leadership is ultimately to blame for not knowing better.


      • theebloominidiot

        Oh ….I’m not blaming the devil, alone……

        Faith is ultimately an individual response to God.

        Many proclaimed Christians have an ‘unusual’, view of their faith…. and perhaps this is due to a lack of depth in churches…..In general. Not just the casual church.

        Our society and the ever increasing reliance on technology, is creating a barrier, to genuine faith…..because we want instant gratification……

        Strong Faith ultimately comes from a strong relationship with Christ……how many today are willing to dig deep to get to know Christ well.

        To me this is a problem across the spectrum of denominations and types of worship.

        Discipleship is not being carried out by the congregants…..they’re sitting back hoping the leadership will do that work.

        The design was for us all to be disciples, and then disciple others.

        I’m just pretty certain this is a problem in most if not ALL churches, even the ones that do a good job.

        Basically, “you can lead a horse to water……”

        Lot’s of horses are going thirsty.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think you are right about it this being an issue with THE church, period. To me, it is extremely obvious that it is happening in the model of church discussed in this article. That model, in its many forms, is the pre-dominant church model.

          By casual, I certainly am not talking about how one dresses to attend.


        • theebloominidiot


          I would agree any leadership watering down God’s word for numbers does a disservice to all involved….especially the seeker!

          “You want the TRUTH,”

          “I think I deserve it.”

          You can’t handle the TRUTH!”
          ~ A Few Good Men

          Not a good way to go about saving souls!


      • “I do believe our leadership is ultimately to blame for not knowing better.”

        Is it truly because they don’t know better? Or is it because they are concerning themselves to much with worldly things and flesh (finances and [personal] followers)?

        As you mentioned above, “it will take courageous leaders who know what to do and have the courage to cut staff, cut expenses and get a paid job outside of ministry so they can volunteer their time”… I do believe Paul made tents to cover his living expenses.


        • I have talked with a lot of these guys. I think they just don’t get it. They see the model, they are taught how to run the model, they are released to run the model.

          I talked with a church planter who was doing something different. The main church that sent them out was like 5000 people. His pastor told him: “I wish we could do what you are doing, but we are too big and can’t change course now.” That pastor understood the model was flawed, but he felt powerless to change it.


    • Well put.


  5. Restless Pilgrim

    To quote the Early Church, Lex orandi, lex credendi


    • Hi Restless!

      …lex vivendi

      I have been reflecting on this exact thought, in English of course, a LOT lately!


      • Restless Pilgrim

        It was actually one of things I loved to do when I was in London, to visit a church and try and surmise as to what the congregation believe based purely on the way they worshiped 🙂


  6. Yes. Agree with what you wrote, Jim.
    Today churches are mostly not good (little interest) in doing discipleship work but very eager to recruit members.Some have turned themselves into kingdoms of their own (selfish) with no relationship nor any care for other smaller churches. There are many heresy which is very difficult to differentiate unless you are a teacher who understand the bible truth very well. Students will not be able to differentiate heresy until after many years of learning from different kinds of teaching from all sources and not only one type from one denomination. We need the Holy Spirit to teach us and we must study and search the bible for answers ourselves without ceasing. The Sunday Christians are lost as they are tossed about by winds of doctrines hence following after heresy (Ep 4:11 to 16). Jesus came to save the lost but the lost thought that they are save in their mega churches. Small groups of Christians (me too) had left the Mega church when they see something is not right in their church. What is the reason. The criteria is the teaching and motive. Leave if the teaching is in error and motives of leadership are not sincere. Motives like greed of which many pastors (scandals in Millions of $) were exposed in mega churches. Check it out in you-tube. God has left so many church buildings (cathedrals) in Europe in the past centuries. Yet we love mega churches and love to own huge buildings. God wants us to work Focusing on discipleship not on the buildings.


  7. About the early church.
    My 2 cents comments : Evan mentioned “Why would God allow His church, the one His Son died to give birth to, to be radically transformed? Why would God not have stepped in to guide the church along the right path, at least in its infancy?” Clement was writing and leading the church while the Apostle John was still alive. Why didn’t John rebuke him and the other church leaders for such a brazen act as grabbing power for themselves and transforming the church into something it was not supposed to be? John did rebuke leadership in Revelation, but not for this.
    Correct me if I am wrong as I am not good with the history of the church but I read that the early church was horribly persecuted by Nero. Surely no true Christians are spared. So many died for Christ’s sake in Nero’s time and God did not stop allowing this as we can hear of persecutions in China, India and other countries until today. How then can a church be allowed to be open to have Sunday services or to planted new churches openly under Nero’s rule? None, as the true Christians are hiding for their life. Who is allowed to teach what the apostles teach openly? None. Do you think that the teachings passed down from Clement (Justin, Augustine, etc…) or anyone who are permitted by the government are the true doctrines of Christ? “NO”. All of them are partly right and must be surely partly wrong or their writings will be in our Bible today (selected by God). For it is God who gave us the Bible. There were so many false letters (imitating to be Paul and the apostles) during Paul’s time. As to “Why didn’t John rebuke them” we don’t know that for sure but surely there are no evident that John approve of them (God didn’t approve them or it will be written in the bible for us today. We have to believe that the Bible is compiled by God even there is no one to proof this.).
    Why would God not have stepped in to guide the church along the right path, at least in its infancy? God DID… Paul was sent by God to do that, in all of Paul’s letters to the churches (Ro. Cor. Phi. Thes. Col.). Paul was warning every church of False teachings in all his letters (epistles) to every church. Today we must search the bible for corrections of doctrines. No one else in this world is able nor qualified to correct our doctrines except the Bible alone. No fore fathers are able nor qualified to correct our doctrines except the Bible alone. Those who are able and qualified to correct our doctrines are Paul and the 12 apostles chosen by God and their letters are put in the Bible for us to study from the early church til today. They are the only true teachers of God. If we are not careful, we will fall into error that is wise in our own wisdom / conceit. The bible is the only source for corrections.
    I believe that in any one time / era / century, there are some Christians who understand the true teachings of Christ (the bible) but they are rejected by the Council of Churches just as the high priest rejected Jesus our Lord.
    Paul was rejected by the church in Asia Minor :
    2 Timothy 4:10
    – For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.
    – Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works:
    – Of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words. (Teachings)
    – At my first answer no man stood with me, but all [men] forsook me: [I pray God] that it may not be laid to their charge. Note : ALL FORSOOK PAUL……


  8. Hi ‘not for itching ears,’

    I think that there is an issue with the model and the teaching within churches today. I am wondering about a model of church that enables or allows much more participation from the congregation during services. Perhaps a more interactive service, not only readings of scripture, etc, but this could be a part of the service. In this way, leaders appointed from God can be discovered, encouraged, and developed. People’s gifts can be discovered or revealed by the Holy Spirit also.
    Does the entire sermon need to be done by the Pastor? Are there parts of the sermon he can designate to congregation members to research and prepare for presentation on Sunday? Something like this? What about someone in the congregation whose testimony can prop up the sermon topic? Freedom from sin and so on. There probably could be many ideas that could be thought of.

    What is presented now in churches is sorely lacking. Truth is taught in part with a carefulness to not offend anyone attending the service. This is definitely not Biblical or Scriptural in its’ motive.



    • Hi Linda,

      Thanks for jumping into the discussion. All of your suggestions have actually been incorporated into church services throughout history, especially in the modern era. I have found liturgical services to be much more participatory than the non-liturgical churches that I have participated in, which came as a HUGE shock to me.


  1. Pingback: Is the Casual Approach to Church Producing Casual Christians? | A disciple's study

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