A Call for Conversational Analysis

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : April 23, 2005

We all know people who are intensely dissatisfied with the Church.  They feel as though the church is inherently broken and long for something better.  There is nothing wrong with feeling that way, to a point.  It gets problematic, however, when the person in search for the authentic church seems to wear their dissatisfaction as a badge.  I’ve seen many people go through a conversation similar to the fictional account below:

Gary the Eschewer of Church: Yeah, I mean, the church is called to be like Jesus for the world…and all I see is churches being whores to the world.  That just sucks.

Church Attending Leon: Yeah, you’re right on man. [notice the fundamental agreement]

Gary the Eschewer of Church: I mean…all I want is a church of people who love each other, who spend time building community with each other, who reach out to people where they’re at without all the programming, a church where everyone has a real role, [insert other particular desires for the church here].

Church Attending Leon: Yeah, that’s what I’m looking for too.  Honestly, I think my church is a lot like you’re describing.  You should check it out. [Now it is possible that Leon doesn’t really understand what Gary is looking for, but it is also quite possible that Leon DOES indeed understand what Gary wants, and belongs to a community in which Gary might genuinely find satisfying.]

Gary the Eschewer of Church: Yeah man.  Yeah. [Diverts eye contact, because he really isn’t interested in checking out Leon’s church…even though he doesn’t know anything about it.]

I’ve seen this sort of conversation play out.  I’ve hear rants from people who hate the church and long for something authentic…but I have never heard someone looking for anything completely novel…and usually someone who is a part of something incredibly similar to what that person is looking for will approach that person.  Sometimes, the person is happy to find a church like what they want, but many times, the person seems to be unwilling to recognize the possibilty that a church which even remotely resembles their "dream church" exists.  Why is that?  I have my own theories, but I want to hear yours first.

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6 Responses to “A Call for Conversational Analysis”

  1. Michelle on April 24th, 2005 11:30 am

    In psychology class they will teach you that a woman who stays in an abusive relationship will remain because in her mind the benifits out way the consequences of changing.
    When people hang onto ideas or concepts that are detrimental to them its usually because it serves some purpose in their life.
    My friend has a crissis of faith every other month, and changes chruches about every 6 months. Personally I think its for the attention it gets her. Christians will flock to those in crissis.
    Attack the badge. Don’t be impressed. Perhaps ask “What are you getting out of being disatisfied with every church? Or not accepting an invitation.”

  2. Michelle on April 24th, 2005 1:16 pm


    Just read bad day. Hope Amy is still healing well. How is she?

  3. Van S on April 24th, 2005 11:36 pm

    She’s doing well, thanks for asking!

  4. blorge on April 25th, 2005 11:42 am

    I don’t think it’s possible for a one-size-fits-all response to this conversation but I would have to venture to guess that Gary was at one point in a dysfunctional church or had a dysfunctional Christian witnessing to them and was hurt by someone.

    Logicians would say that Gary is projecting qualities of the particular (church) onto the universal (church).

    He seems to be rejecting Christians, not the Church in this scenereo.

  5. blorge on May 4th, 2005 10:23 am

    What do you think, Mark?

  6. Van S on May 4th, 2005 4:02 pm

    Well, I’m in a hurry right now, so I’ll briefly share a couple thoughts:

    1) I think people are very skeptical and cynical towards the promises churches offer. They won’t trust people when they say “my church is like that” because we are all too used to churches spining themselves positively to attract people.

    2) While postmodernism values community more than modernism, I think individualism in American spirituality is stronger today that it was 10 years ago. We are a culture which breeds narcissists, people believe that they should have a church that is tailored to them. They want to discover the perfect church on their own, and are often unwilling to really listen to the suggestions of others. Just a couple thoughts.

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