For decades, a positive relationship existed between religious attendance and interpersonal trust.
The more people went to church, the more they trusted others.
The graph below from Ryan Burge paints the picture.
For 40 years, the more a person attended church, the more trusting they were of others.
But that changed in 2010. From 2010 – 2019, trust and church attendance reversed for the first time.
The question is, why?
But first, another question:
Does Trust Matter for Church People?
Considering the entirety of the Christian faith is predicated on faith and trust, this statistic is of extreme interest.
Trust is foundational for:
- Placing our faith in Jesus.
- Following Jesus in our daily lives.
- Believing God’s boundaries are for our benefit.
- Choosing to put others first.
- Loving others as we’ve first been loved.
We could list hundreds of reasons trust matters to our faith.
Yet, trust is waning.
A lack of trust creates a challenging dynamic for discipleship and growing faith. Moreover, it positions Christians in a more combative posture against those who don’t believe like us or see the world as we do.
A lack of trust positions Christians in a more combative posture against those who don’t believe like us or see the world as we do.
Why Do Church People Trust Others Less Today than in the Past?
We could conjecture plenty of reasons.
For instance, too many churches teach that the world is a scary place intent on getting them and their children. Too many churches have devolved into political PACs. Too many churches are openly antagonistic to “outsiders” of any shape or kind.
All of these reasons are part of the problem. But I suspect the greatest problem in the church today may be the increased isolation and insulation from those not like them.
Look around at most churches today. What do you see?
Our Homogenous Churches
Let’s admit churches in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s weren’t overly diverse.
So much about individual churches is driven by culture, style, and preference. Hispanic people tend to attend Hispanic services. Black people tend to prefer the African-American church. And upper-middle-class people tend to congregate with similar socioeconomic types.
But, even though Sunday has traditionally been the most segregated day of the week, it’s not always been segregated by every single destination possible. Racially, yes. But today, church bodies are nearly identical in every aspect of life.
This homogony is having a consequence. At church, people are no longer forced to engage or meet anyone not like them. When the church becomes an echo chamber, everyone outside the church becomes untrustworthy.
Your new Job as a Pastor or Church Leader
I know you don’t need anything extra, but if you want to lead your church to engage more deeply in trust, perhaps you should go first.
We all need to teach trust again. Here are four tips to build more trust in your personal life:
- Intentionally Engage with People NOT Like You: Several years ago, I formed a small group with six men not like me. I asked these six men of color to meet once for two hours. I planned to ask some white guy questions about being a black man. This one meeting turned into a year-long small group. We became close friends. I learned a lot. They learned a lot, too. Through empathy and curiosity, we made each other better.
- Start Leading with Curiosity: We live in an ever-increasing critical world. We’ve been trained to judge, not inquire. We rarely, if ever, engage in nuanced conversations. We like to make points at the sacrifice of making a difference. We don’t seek to understand before forming (and spouting) opinions. You get it. What if you decided to put criticism on the back burner in lieu of curiosity?
- Refuse to Fear Guilt by Association: If God were afraid of guilt by association, he’d never have sent his Son to live among us! You can learn to trust people if you don’t engage with people you struggle to trust. What would happen if you intentionally sought out people from groups you typically struggle to trust?
- Choose to Trust: Ernest Hemingway suggested, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” Trust is a choice. Yes, you can force people to prove they deserve your trust first, or you can do the opposite and choose to trust. Rather than assume the worst, choose first to trust. It’s a choice.
Corporately, your life will affect and shift the congregation’s life. Everything does rise and fall on your leadership.
If you want to make this go a bit faster, you could:
- Form non-homogenous small groups.
- During a sermon, interview people not like those sitting in your congregation.
- Partner in community outreach with a church not like your church.
- Prioritize missions for students and adults.
Trust is Too Foundational to Overlook
The people God has gifted you to lead need you to lead them back to trust.
Nothing functions well without trust – marriages, friendships, or our faith.
A world of increasing distrust moves believers away from God and others. This is too important to ignore.
So prioritize it in your life. And strategically and intentionally incorporate trust opportunities into the life of your church.
Your church and our world will be better off because you did.