Now that my title grabbed your attention, give me a minute to explain myself before my speedy execution…
The third Sunday in September been designated as “Back to Church Sunday”. I’m not quite sure who had the authority to make that declaration – I thought only the Pope and perhaps Oprah had that much pull. But my church plans to participate in a strategic way – we are having services that day. Voila!
But getting people to attend church – any church – is proving quite a task. Though Gallup has touted attendance figures at around 40% of the population, recent studies by the Evangelical Covenant Church (covchurch.org) whittle that number down to a startling 17.7%. So how can the figures be so skewed?
It’s really pretty easy when you think about it. Asking people about whether they attend church is right up there with “do you love your mother” and “do you floss regularly”. Most people want to seem more religious than they actually are, and so they answer “yes” though they haven’t darkened the door of a church in years.
There’s also been a decrease in the “frequency” with which people attend. I know some folks who’d consider themselves good members of my church, but they only show once every couple of months. Sorry, but if you show up that seldom, you don’t have any idea of what we even believe, much less how God is using us to change our community. And when it comes to making that difference in the world, I can guarantee you’re doing nothing to help us. You come t church “when you feel like it”…
So when it comes to your church attendance, it’s not about God or helping others…it’s literally “all about you”.
This makes a lot of sense to me alongside my own subjective “research”. When I ask most people what church they attend, half of them can’t remember the name of the church they attend so faithfully. Another 25% give the name of someplace they attend only at Christmas and/or Easter. Sorry kids, but if that counts, we’re all Puritans from eating turkey at Thanksgiving as well!
While I’ll admit I’m swimming upstream here, I really do believe church attendance matters. Yeah, I know you’re thinking, “Of course you’d say that – you’re a pastor!” I’m just trying to drum up business, right? Well, not really. I’ll even go a step further.
Do I believe you can be a good Christian and not go to church?
…No, I’m afraid you can’t.
Now, before you pick up your torch and pitch fork, notice I didn’t say you’re not a “good person”. Some of the best people I’ve known don’t even pretend to believe what I do. However, if you claim to be a believer in Jesus Christ, I’m afraid I am talking about you. And that’s because God has ordained that no Christian is an island unto themselves. When you joined your life to Christ, you joined a “body” and that was not an optional clause. The Bible is actually pretty blunt about it:
“…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:25
By definition Christianity cannot be practiced in a vacuum, but only in community. Our collected experiences with God and knowledge of Him helps us endure life much better than going it alone. It also keeps us from falling for spiritual error, because we’ve got mature believers around to reign us back in. God never meant you to be a “lone ranger”.
Collosians 3:16 puts it this way: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” As a Christian, this is not just a nice way to spend a Sunday – it is your “calling”. And to ignore it is to ignore a key purpose for which God has you on this earth.
In other words, it’s not just about “you and God”. It’s about “all of us together with God”. And we call that “church”.
I’ve heard the old “I can worship God just as well walking in the woods, or listening to music” argument. My answer is, “Well, of course you can! Who can’t get in touch with God sequestered in some Edenic paradise with no people around?” Honestly, that’s worship for wimps. Try worshipping with a few hundred messed up people around, some of whom really don’t care for you that much! That takes commitment!
Of course I’m joking…but not really.
People are messy, and as their pastor I find their problems are often contagious and follow me home. A common joke I’ve heard around pastors is that “ministry would be easy if it weren’t for all the people”. Well, the joke is that ministry IS people – without people, we’re just going through religious motions. And while I enjoy walking and talking with God in nature, the Bible says that something special happens when “two or more” of us can get together without killing each other and worship Him.
Likewise, many of us are going through the motions in attending a church without getting involved with people and ministry. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure God never called anyone to “sit and watch” unless they are disabled. Real “church” is when we actually get to know the people and go through the ups and downs of life together. That was church in the New Testament – a family of people who shared each other’s struggles and joys.
Sorry, but you are not going to get that by simply attending a service. You have to get your hands dirty! God doesn’t allow us to squirt Purell over every situation – it is not a “spectator’s sport”, but “full-contact”. Volunteer with a ministry to the homeless, share your journey in a small group – something, anything. Jesus left the safety of heaven and got involved in our midst. True, it brought Him great suffering, but He couldn’t have helped us had He chosen to “phone it in” long distance.
In the end, you show who you love by whom you’re with. If you really love football, I’ll see you at a stadium this fall. But if you just like it, catching a game on TV will do just fine. Same thing with Jesus. The place He designated for the ones who love Him to meet up is the local church. Not just on holidays, but every Sunday.
You may argue that your church is boring. Fine – go to another…come to mine (OBVIOUS PLUG ALERT!!!). But seriously, there are more than enough churches of different styles to find one that suits you. That is, if you really do love God…
But if you just “like Jesus” a bit, there’ll always be some guy with perfect hair and big teeth preaching on TV you can stay home and watch instead.
Pass the Purell, please.
And if you’re near Naples, FL, stop in and visit me some Sunday at Legacy Church. I think you’ll really enjoy it, though we’re all out of Purell ;0)