Categorically, you’ll often find that it’s these kinds of people that attend church with you:
1) Atheists. Atheists usually attend church to make a mockery of it. If this is you, and if you manage to slip out before the offering is taken, then this might be the cheapest form of good entertainment available to you. At best to your purposes, you can find a poor excuse of a church that will confirm all of your biases and notions about Christianity and about Christians. At worst to your aims, you’ll learn something that will rock your worldview anew. You’ve been warned.
2) Seekers. This word describes people who have niggling doubts about their atheism/agnosticism, and who have started the formal process of clearing things up once and for all. Given that this process is usually prompted by the Holy Spirit, the conclusion is forgone. For you, dear soul, resistance is futile — at this point, whether you know it or not, you’re actually church shopping.
3) The Unchurched. This class of attendees can also be described as “Christmas-Easter” Christians. They believe, but they are habitually out of the habit of attending church. You’ll recognize them because even though they move furtively in and out of the building, dodging eyes and trying to pass through unnoticed, they nonetheless know almost everyone, and almost everyone knows them from their years of intermittent attendance. Accordingly, they must suffer exactly what they are trying to avoid: well-intentioned greetings and appeals that they attend more often and return next week.
4) (Just) Born Again. These are brand-new Christians, and they are on fire! There aren’t enough services in the week for these folks, who are looking to learn, serve and steep themselves in all things Jesus.
This is somewhat ironic, because contrary to popular wisdom, precious few souls are actually saved within the walls of a church. That work usually happens, with great mystery, elsewhere – in “the mission field;” by parachurch organizations; and in relationships at work, in social clubs and within families. Of course the people doing the saving outside of church are church people, but that’s not the point.
Once saved, the Holy Spirit stimulates a hunger in a soul: to learn, to worship, to fellowship and to serve – these are the things that the church is really good for; not saving people.
5) Backsliders. This Christianese lingo is an oldie but a goodie. Backsliders are the faithful who have sinned egregiously. They usually stay away from church while stained with the consequences of their sins, so they are often also a part of the Unchurched cohort. Like prodigal sons, they return when they are ready to repent, and usually take on a renewed rigor that makes them behave like Born Agains, again.
6) Seasoned Churchgoers. The “seeker-sensitive” church operates at a Christianity 101 level. Nonetheless, it somehow remains well-stocked with elder statesmen who manage to eke out some new wisdom from the 47th telling of the Jonah story or the 6th Head Pastor to unpack the Sermon on the Mount.
It’s certain that they receive spiritual sustenance elsewhere — probably metaphysically, as they’ve read through the Bible multiple times; have memorized enough verses to give blind Eli a run for his money; they know all the hymns by heart; and have served on every committee in the church (and have both started and shut down a couple-few as well). Nonetheless, for these, the church continues to hold great appeal: it is the entirety of one’s social circle for these “parishioners emeritus.” In the sunset of their lives, it is their time to serve; to give back; to invest in future generations of church members who will follow in their footsteps.
7) The Dead. Final stop between here and eternity. The faithful are ushered out the door by their spiritual leaders, surrounded by loved ones, along with the necro-curious — people mystified or enamored by death and its rituals — and frankly, also the theo-curious: people compelled by the proximity of death to them that they seek to better understand life — and options for eternal life — through church funeral services. Many a conversion has taken place amidst black crepe and sobs of loneliness and despair.
The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.