“Why are so many people reluctant to go to church these days — and should I say anything about it to them?”

A pastor in Washington is weighing in for those who desire to return to church again on a regular basis in the New Year of 2024 or who have friends or family members in that position — people who perhaps have held back since the COVID-19 pandemic, or even earlier. 

At this holiday time of year, said Pastor Jesse Bradley of Auburn, Washington, “people are especially appreciative of, and receptive to, attending a church service with others.”

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He added, “Attendance soars and many people are curious about Jesus and experiencing a time of inspiration.” 

The reality, he noted, is that some people may have “experienced past hurts” regarding church. 

Bradley shared tips and advice in comments to Fox News Digital about how to handle these situations.

“You might ask people a question like: ‘What were your experiences with faith as you were growing up?’ Or, ‘have you had some negative experiences at church?’”

Said Bradley, “That is a relatively safe way to give them an opportunity to share with you. Some people will just begin to tell you their story without any questions. Just listen. Don’t judge them. Don’t interrupt them. Don’t start preaching to them.”

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Rather, he said, “listen with your heart, mind and ears. Listen as long as they want to talk. Listen by asking additional questions, such as how it made them feel. There might be some deep scars,” he added. 

“If they open up with you, it shows they trust you. It’s an honor they would let you into this part of their lives.”

Compassion is needed, said the pastor of Grace Community Church, who is also a husband and father. 

“Listening is how you love people. Listening brings healing. The Bible says to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Listening is a way to honor someone else, and it’s hard to find good listeners,” noted Bradley. “Listen well.”

Bradley said that he himself “never grew up going to church or reading the Bible.”

But when he was in college at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, “the professor directed us to the Gospel of John as an assignment in our religion class,” he told Fox News Digital. 

“At the same time, I began to have spiritual conversations with Christians for the first time in my life in my dormitory.” 

He said that others shared what they believed and “why they believed it. And both are significant.”

At that time in his life, he said, he “wasn’t ready to attend church, but I wanted to learn more about Jesus. There are millions of people in America who are very curious about God but not ready to attend a weekend church service yet.”

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So — “simply go to where people are and meet them where they are with faith.”

In college, his friends “gave me some books I could read and research the historical evidence about Jesus. Facts lead to faith.”

Said Bradley, “You can provide websites, books and videos that provide insights and content that others can review in their own time and in what they consider to be a safe place.”

Do not rush or “put pressure on people,” he advised.

“Just walk with them and be available for any questions or further conversations. You might be able to share your own journey and story, too, about the hope you have found.”

“When someone has had negative experiences in church such as hypocrisy, abuse or harsh comments, I first just try to understand,” said the pastor.

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“Sometimes I grieve with them sincerely if it has been very traumatic,” he added.

Bradley said, “There are some conversations I’ll have about what made Jesus angry and sad, too. Jesus is against sin. In their healing journey, people begin to separate Jesus from the people who harmed them — after they initially might have combined God, church and mistreatment.” 

The faith leader said that “over time, it becomes clearer to them that God still loves them — and He is very different than their negative experiences might have been.” 

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In his experience, he said he’s “walked with people for years who eventually are ready to return to church. They ask me where they should attend, if they live in another city at that point. I really try to research the churches in the area and help them find a solid place and healthy culture. It’s important to be discerning.”

He went on, “Choosing a church is a prayerful decision.” 

Bradley said that many people who haven’t attended church regularly in recent years “haven’t had a negative experience, but simply drifted these last few years since the pandemic.” 

He said, “They have just become comfortable in a weekend routine that doesn’t include church. It has been convenient on the weekend to sleep in, watch sports, exercise or catch up on work.”

Said Bradley, “When you have a habit of missing church, it takes some intentionality and often an invitation to return. Many of these people have unintentionally wandered and carry some sense of guilt. So it’s good to remind them that they can return without shame.” 

He continued, “It’s always positive to draw near to God.” 

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Others may share, he said, “that they miss the community, a church family, the sacraments and hearing others sing in worship. Also, they might express that their kids have been missing these things, too. Simply welcome them with open arms.” 

He pointed out, “Church should be a place of hope and joy. They might feel very refreshed and closer to God.”

Attending a church service “in person is ideal and is a different experience than just watching a service online,” said Bradley. 

“Church is a place where there should be hospitality, truth, inspiration — and a chance to serve others and use your talents, too.”

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