Messy Church for Messy People

85% of Catholics Don’t Go To Church Anymore Bo Sanchez

I WAS reading global surveys on Christian church attendance.

They’re decreasing fast. Especially in Europe, churches are losing their flock. In Spain, only 31% go to church on Sunday. In Germany, only 16%. In France, only 10%. And in Australia, only 9% go to church—Catholic or “Protestant”.

You’d think it would be a little better in the Philippines. After all, we’re the only Christian country in Asia. Well, yes and no. For the Philippines, a Bishop told me only 15% of Catholics go to Church every Sunday.

Just to check this figure, I did my own informal survey. I picked up the phone and called up parish priests in Metro Manila and in the provinces and asked what is happening in their parishes.

One parish priest in Metro Manila told me that out of 23,000 residents in his parish, only 3,750 attend Mass every Sunday–which is only 16% of the total population.

Another parish priest in Quezon City told me that out of 15,000 parishioners, only 2,000 attend every Sunday–a measly 13%.

The parish priest in the capital city of a province has 83,000 Catholics. But only 7,500 attend Sunday Mass—only 9%.

Finally, I asked a parish priest working in a barrio in a remote island. He told me that he has 4,000 parishioners. But only 200 attend his Sunday Mass a shocking 5%.

Why Is This Happening?

Why are so many people not going to church? Here’s one big reason: Because we haven’t seriously answered God’s call to love the lost.

We don’t deliberately look for the lost. Jesus said if a shepherd has 100 sheep, but loses one sheep, won’t he leave the 99 sheep to look for the lost sheep?

As Luke 15:5-7 puts it:(5) And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to this, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ (7) I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

Study all our church gatherings, our vocabulary, our songs, our sermons…

Much of what we do is geared to religious people. Why? Face it: Lost sheep are messy. Because lost sheep act lost. Broken people act broken. Messed up people act messed up. We’d rather hang out with people who are like us, who vibrate in the same spiritual frequency, who speak the same Christian jargon, who know the same Bible verses and hum the same worship songs.

But Jesus didn’t do that. He always hang out with the wrong crowd. And this is what this entire book is all about. I’m excited. In the next few pages, I am sharing with you why we do what we do — and how we do it —so that you fulfill God’s mission for your life.

Go To Where They Are

Let me tell you a story.

One night, a man was walking on the street, and he saw a little boy under a lamp post, looking for something.

The man asked the boy, “Did you lose something?”

The boy said, “Sir, I lost my wallet.”

The man said, “I’ll help you look for it, son.”

After a few minutes of looking for the wallet, the man asked the boy, “Are you sure you lost it here?”

The little boy shook his head and said, “No, I lost it over there,” pointing far away.

“What?” the man asked, bewildered. “Then why in the world are we looking for your wallet here under the lamppost?”

“Because it’s dark over there and it’s bright here, it’s so much easier to look for it here.”

This is why we’re ineffective. We’re looking for the lost in the wrong places. We want the lost to come to us—instead of us going to them.

How The Feast Was Born

Some years ago, our faith community, Light of Jesus Family, went through a transformation.

Let me give you a little background.

In the early 1980s, 35 years ago, by God’s grace, my family and I, along with some relatives neighbors, and friends, formed the Light of Jesus Family.

In the next few years, we were a happy inward-looking community — without knowing that we were inward-looking. We were like a fortress with thick walls, and inside it were 2,000+ members who had to go through all sorts of hoops to be deemed worthy to be a member.

We had a rigorous formation program for those who wanted to become holy. If you failed in attendance or if you don’t live up to our other norms, you were gently advised that perhaps this was not your calling – because subconsciously, we felt we were better than other faith communities.

I’m ashamed to tell you about our arrogance, but I like sharing about it because it reminds me never to fall into it again.

Obviously, no messy people could get in because we wanted to build a holy community.

We wanted to be holy, to live a new life— yes, because we ourselves have had issues, burdens, and at one time or another, in various degrees, we were “messy” too.

Then we found a new way to live a godly life and so we formed this faith community. And I guess, we thought, so that we won’t go back to our “old” life, we should have all these rules — which inadvertently excluded those who won’t live the “holy” life we wanted to live.

But one day, God spoke to my heart and told me how foolish we all were. He then showed me how we’ve forgotten the wounded, broken, and messy people outside our fence that needed our love.

I shared these disturbing thoughts to our Elders, and to my surprise, they all agreed to make the radical change.

I asked this, “Are you sure you’re okay with this? Because we’re going to make Light of Jesus messy. We’re going to love messy people.”

To implement the changes in community, they installed me as Presiding Elder of the Light of Jesus Family – again.

I said again because 12 years before, I had relinquished this position to work on Anawim, our Mercy ministry for the poor, and Shepherds Voice, our Media ministry.

And so we did the unthinkable. For a couple of years, we shut down all our “for-members-only” meetings. It was an upheaval, because for decades, closed-meetings were 90% of our activities.

Around two years later, we brought some of those meetings back, but they never became the center of our community life.

In place of these closed-meetings, we built a special kind of weekly meeting that welcomed everyone.

That meeting we now call The Feast.

The change was so radical, a few of our members left, because they wanted their old community. But 99% of the members remained, and ultimately, many of those who left came back, because they saw God move in the Light of Jesus Family.

Our Target Defines How We Do Things

We reached out to the unchurched.

We became a messy group loving messy people.

Today, there are 285 of these Feasts scattered all over the world, bringing thousands of unchurched people back home to God.

Who Are the Unchurched?

Let me just point out who we mean when we say unchurched. These are the people who are unchurched — those, for one reason or another, left their parish church, or their Catholic religion, or those who totally lost faith in God.

They stopped believing in God. They stopped doing Catholic practices. They did not go to church anymore.

This is the reason that in most parts of the world, we don’t hold The Feast in parish churches. Even if it’s easier. Even if they give us a free venue.

The rationale is simple. If we put The Feast in church, we’ll only attract mostly religious people. Many of the unchurched won’t go near a church. Some are angry at the church or bored at the church.

That’s why we put The Feast in malls, movie houses, restaurants, civic centers, offices, and homes.

And we don’t just preach religious topics. We talk about messages that are relevant to secular people’s life. Our songs don’t sound religious. And shucks, the preacher or worship leaders or singers don’t look religious, either.

Shepherds of The Feast

Not a few times, the pioneers, the leaders of the Light of Jesus, even I have been called heroes of The Feast. Yes, we are, because we did make heavy sacrifices to build this community, to get The Feast going.

But I must say, we are really just like the sheep the Shepherd has found and has cared for to this day— so that like Him, we have, in our humble way, become shepherds for the people you will read about in this book.

By God’s grace, our writers experienced an amazing awakening. And by doing this sacrifice to courageously share their stories, they have become shepherds too for the downtrodden and the lost. For I know there is power in their honest, straightforward stories that will bless more of the unchurched and bring them home into God’s loving embrace. Bo Sanchez

PS.If you don’t have a spiritual home, you can visit the nearest Feast in your area. Check out www.LightFam.com And if you want to start a small Feast in your office, school, or home, go to www.TheFeastVideo.com and see how you can change the world by loving someone, one person at a time.