We Need Less Certain People


Let's play a little game.

Do you think there are a lot of McDonald's in the United States?

Or how about Starbucks? Do you think there are a lot of Starbucks locations in the United States? 

Now, here's a slightly trickier one: Do you think there are a lot of churches in the United States?

While I suspect you quickly answered yes to the first two questions, we may get some different answers on the third. But here's a crazy fact: there are about twenty-five times more churches than Starbucks in the US. Let that sink in. Twenty-five churches for every one Starbucks you're thinking of.

The numbers look like this:

  • More than 14,000 McDonalds
  • More than 16,000 Starbucks
  • Somewhere between 380k-400k churches

If you're anything like me, these numbers feel misleading. It doesn't seem like there could be twenty-five times more churches than either of these stores I see all around me. And that doesn't even consider that many of these churches dwarf the size of any Starbucks.

Sometimes in ministry circles, I hear talk about the biggest need being planting more churches. It implies that the sheer volume of churches could easily solve our challenges. Yet that doesn't appear to be the issue. Instead, I think the bigger problem is not that Christianity has never impacted most Americans; the problem is that the impact likely hasn't been a positive one.

We don't assume that most people's views of Starbucks and McDonald's would change if they would just open more stores. Most Americans have already experienced both and have come to their conclusions about each. More stores would likely only reinforce that. While this may be an unpopular opinion, I'd suggest the same is largely true of the church as well.

It reminds me of one of my friends who walked away from being a Lead Pastor and told me the role was "too narrow for my preferred future." I know exactly what he means. Christians are known for how confidently we hold our beliefs. But this often leads to narrow thinking, intolerance of others, and sheer arrogance. It's a master class in the cognitive bias known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. As the philosopher Bertrand Russel explained, “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” Pastor Craig Groeschel says it slightly differently: "Those who are lowest in competence are highest in confidence."

Maybe we've shielded a bizarre version of Christianity behind a wall of confidence? The indicator of this is when someone needs other people to agree with their opinions in order to maintain their confidence in what they believe.

A great litmus test for me is how often people change their minds about their ideas. This is the most tangible sign of growth, yet it requires exposure to ideas you don't currently have and a willingness to admit you were wrong. Both of which can be a challenge.

I was a bit surprised by how much of a divergent response I got to my post about there being no such thing as a "Biblical Worldview" (see: The Problem with a Biblical Worldview). Many people took the lesson to heart and were encouraged by it. But the ones who didn't get the point still didn't get the point even after I tried explaining myself. It seems we desperately want one right answer to everything... and we confidently want to believe we have it.

There will always be need for more (healthy) churches. But more importantly, there's a significant need for the Christians in those churches to be less certain and more competent in growing our faith in a way that looks like Jesus.

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

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