Tattoo Parlor Conversations & Why My Midwest Friends Quit Church

I had a great conversation in a tattoo parlor.

I spent the afternoon there with my older brother who is about to deploy to the Middle East for his fourth time.  He wanted to get inked before heading overseas.

While there, I had a long conversation with an incredibly nice gentleman about his spiritual journey.  Besides having tattoos on nearly every square inch of his body, and enough facial jewelry to set off an outdated metal detector, we had a lot in common.  We both hate religion.

He is the son of a Southern Baptist preacher and has vowed to never again step foot in a Baptist Church.  I am a Southern Baptist pastor who has vowed to never again work in a traditional or legalistic church.  There was probably a time when our life trajectories looked similar, but we have both ended up at very different destinations.

In reflecting on our conversation of how he had left Christianity for Eastern Mysticism, I began to think about many of my childhood friends who no longer identify themselves as Christian.  Some, like the man from the tattoo shop, had loving parents who pointed them to God.

The inevitable question is of course, “why”?  As author Tim Keller points out, there is never one particular reason for someone believing or not believing in God.  It’s never that clean or simple.  According to Keller there are three categories for belief or non-belief: intellectual, emotional and social.

Here are a few specific reasons why I think many of my Midwest friends no longer go to church:

1.) They’re burnt

They’ve done church and they now see it as irrelevant.  You could write a list of what went wrong, what could’ve been better, but ultimately it would be too little too late.  They saw the hypocrisy, the backstabbing, the legalism, and the lack of authenticity.  They don’t want to waste their Sunday mornings going through the motions and trying to fit in with people they find it difficult to connect with.  They need to see the gospel lived out in a community of caring people who are bound to each other through redemption in Christ.

2.) They’re smart

I’m not necessarily saying they are smart for not going to church.  It’s just that they are too smart for shallow preaching.  Many of the people I meet who were formerly active in church are now well educated.  Unfortunately, the typical church service can come off as an insult to their critical thinking skills.  They need to hear the gospel in its simplicity and complexity.

3.) They’re searching

I think the assumption about the formerly churched thirty-somethings is that they are now ardent atheists who hate Christianity. This is way off the mark.  They are intelligent, friendly, socially concerned and caring people who want to make the world a better place.  At least this describes the people I know.

They are also still searching for the big answers to life.  Because of their poor past experiences, Christianity has been checked off the list.  They’ve moved on to new ways of envisioning truth.  They are still searching and still open.  They need to know the gospel provides the most intellectually satisfying explanation of life and reality.

Like the tattoo artist, they are in every neighborhood.  They will be at your coffee shop in the morning.  They are the professionals shaping our culture.  They need people like you who understand, love and live the gospel in tangible ways.

I had a great conversation in a tattoo parlor.

I hope it’s not the last of its kind.  I hope and pray to faithfully present the glorious gospel of a loving God to a generation who has only been exposed to a water-downed version.