ONE THOUSAND MILES WIDE AND ONE INCH DEEP
In an interview this morning with Shankar Vedantam, Steve Innskeep of NPR’s Morning Edition, offered a fascinating peak behind the façade of American religiosity. Innskeep reported the findings of a study that surveyed our actual church attendance versus our professed church attendance. The bottom line: 79% of Americans report themselves as associated with an organized faith group. Nearly half (45%) of all Americans report that they attend weekly religious services versus only twenty percent of Europeans. But the actual attendance is about equal: 20 % of Christian Europeans attend religious services each week versus 24% of Americans. Why the discrepancy? According to Vedantam, Americans want to see themselves, and want to be seen, as the kind of people that attend church. But when the clock strikes nine on Sunday morning we’d rather stay in our PJ’s watching Meet the Press than slip on our shoes and shuffle off to Sunday School.
It’s like when the dentist asks if you’ve been flossing. Everyone wants to be seen as someone who flosses. But our teeth tell a different tale. 
In the same way, Americans, according to many researchers, want very much to be spiritually deep people. We want the power that comes from a real, intimate, experience of the living God. But we either don’t know how or else we are confused and disillusioned by what we see in the professing Christians around us. The church in America looks little different from the world. We have the same problems with addictions, the same issues with sexual deviation and oppression, the same rates of divorce, depression, anxiety, emotional illnesses, corruption in business, and the like. Our spirituality, measured by positive transformation into healthy, happy, and honorable people, is one thousand miles wide and one inch deep.
Pastor and author John Ortberg summarized our angst well in an interview with Dallas Willard, “I went through this long era of intense dissatisfaction and confusion about spiritual life… It’s the cry of the heart,” he said, “God! I don’t know what to do. I know I need you. I know I want you. But I don’t know what to do. Then I picked up this book (referring to Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines) and opened to the preface and read, authentic transformation really is possible if we are willing to do one thing and that is to rearrange our lives around the things that Jesus practiced in order to receive life and power from the Father.”
While Church attendance isn’t necessarily a good measure of spiritual depth, it is at least one indicator that we are serious enough about our spiritual lives to engage in regular, corporate worship, to seek God in the presence of other believers. But that is only one of the spiritual disciplines, and one of the most passive. We can no more expect to experience the transforming power of life in the Spirit via one hour a week of sitting and suffering through sermonic spiritual dentistry, than we can expect to become professional baseball players by watching the World Series. We have to get in the game. If we want to experience the presence and power of God in our lives, we have to put into practice the habits and attitudes that Jesus modeled, the Scripture encourages, and that serious believers have practiced down through the centuries. (See for example 2nd Peter 1:3-9; Colossians 3:1-4; etc.)
Perhaps that is what so many of us are trying to say when we fib to the surveyors about our religious lives: We really want to know God. We just don’t know how. If that echoes the cry of your soul, I urge you to ask for audio copies of our current series on the spiritual disciplines. They are designed to help you learn how to walk as Jesus walked so that you can know the power Jesus knew.
For further reading: The Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard; The Life You’ve Always Wanted, by John Ortberg (John calls this “Dallas for Dummies.”); The Transforming Friendship, by James Houston; Restoring Your Spiritual Passion, by Gordon MacDonald; Finding God on the A Train, by Rick Hamlin; Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster. You may view the seven minute interview with Dallas Willard and John Ortberg, along with at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wj5UaLzIiDA.