Q: You have visited a variety of churches in China and other persecuted regions. How different is their experience of church from ours?
A: I recall when my daughter and I went to an underground gathering in China years ago. Young people were praying so passionately, begging God to send them to the most dangerous places. They were actually hoping to die as martyrs! I had never seen anything like it. I still can’t get over the fearless passion for Jesus that this church embodied.
As they shared stories of persecution, I sat in amazement and asked for more stories. After a while, they asked why I was so intrigued. I told them that the church in America was nothing like this. I can’t tell you how embarrassing it was to try to explain to them that people attend 90-minute services once a week in buildings, and that’s what we call “church.” I told them about how people switch churches if they find better teaching, or more exciting music, or more robust programs for their kids.
As I described church life in America, they began to laugh. Not just small chuckles—they were laughing hysterically. I felt like a standup comedian, but I was literally just describing the American church as I’ve experienced it. They found it laughable that we could read the same Scriptures they were reading and then create something so incongruent.
The same is true in India. Years ago, my friend from India drove me to a speaking engagement in Dallas. When he heard the music and saw the lights, he said, “You Americans are funny. You won’t show up unless there’s a good speaker or band. In India, people get excited just to pray.” He proceeded to tell me how believers back home love Communion and how they flock to simple prayer gatherings. I imagined God looking down on the earth and seeing people on one side of the planet gathering expectantly whenever prayer was happening. Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, people only show up for the most talented people and the “atmosphere.”
It’s embarrassing. We should be better than “needing atmosphere” in our American churches. We should desire to meet with God above all else.