Church Attendance Matters.

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I am a pastor. And I am pastorally concerned. Concerned for the community I pastor within; concerned for the people in our neighborhood; concerned for the local church.

Here’s why.

For many church members, church attendance has become optional. Or even worse, perhaps unnecessary. Just google church attendance decline and you will find several studies that speak of this reality in many churches today.

It seems the church has created this problem for itself. In a marketing-driven world, churches have attempted to sell themselves in the ministry “market.” We were determined to capture the attention and loyalty of church attenders by providing entertaining worship experiences. As a result, for many, “church” has turned into an event they attend occasionally. Church consumers have decided to take their attention and loyalty elsewhere. Sports, leisure, worship, and work have become equal options on the weekend smorgasbord.

When faced with a choice of what to consume, many choose something other than a church experience. And who can blame them? Most local churches can’t compete with the impressive entertainment available today. Although we, too often, continue to try. When attendance begins to wane, we purchase new lights, bigger screens and hire a more hip worship pastor…all in the name of “outreach.”

But let’s face it, it’s often a fear reaction. We are scared of being forgotten. Scared of being left behind. Scared of being a secondary option for weekend entertainment.

This scarcity of attenders creates competing churches. Every Easter I am reminded of the competition for church attenders as I receive multiple flyers in the mail promoting local church versions of a Easter service. (This year we received a flyer advertising a local church service as a “3D Experience” complete with 3D glasses at the door. Another church had helicopter-dropped eggs. Anything to draw in the attender!) This competition for a partially-interested church attender continues the erosion of the local church. In the eyes of many in the neighborhood…the consumer church has sealed its own fate as a passing fad, desperately seeking one last minute of fame.

So why am I saying church attendance matters? Isn’t that what the consumer church is trying to say? Nope. Completely different.

One says come and see us as we talk about Jesus. The other says come and be formed…so that others may see Jesus.

Church attendance matters. And not for the growth of the organization itself…but more importantly, for the formation of the people. Church participation is part of our very salvation. Yes, that’s right. Our ongoing salvation is linked to our church participation.

Why?

Church is participation. It is our submission into the body of Christ. It is part of our salvation…transforming us from the idolatry of self into worshipers of God. Church is formation. It is an identity. It is practice. It is a dress rehearsal of how to be Christian. As we partake in sacrament, we are accepting the grace of God. As we sing praise, we are aligning our minds and bodies in worship. As we listen to the Scripture being read aloud, we are practicing hearing God speak. As we anoint and pray, we are practicing a faith beyond our own reason. As we fellowship, we are practicing hospitality. Church is participation. And being a Christian requires practice. It is a discipline not an experience. It requires apprenticeship in order to be lived. To be a Christian requires the body of Christ…the Church. It requires participation.

We know the phrase “there is strength in numbers,” but I would say, “there is strength within the others.” The Christian grows as she/he participates within the body.

Also, the Church is presence. A visible body of Christ. Seen. Tasted. Witnessed. Christ’s Body has presence…and it requires our bodily presence as well. Gathering and participating in worship, word, table, prayer is vital to the Christian.

Our presence matters. Because grace matters. Because love matters. If you love God and are seeking to be formed into Christ’s image, then there is a priority for you…to be present and participating in the Body of Christ. Because we need the grace. And the world needs to witness a people living in love. The world needs a signpost pointing them to a different way of life.

So yes, our church attendance matters. Go to Church. Be the Church. Participate. Be present. Be Christian.

 

12 thoughts on “Church Attendance Matters.

  1. Diann

    THANK YOU!!!! I have been waiting for someone to say this tactfully (left to me and it wouldn’t be). I am a pastor’s daughter and a board member. Too many people attend when its convenient for them. This isn’t about us, it’s about Him!

  2. Churches and pastors want people to come to them; but they won’t reach out and welcome those who need encouragement to come to church. Some just need a smile, hug, a visit. I’ve been trying to find a church, but it’s like nobody seems like they care whether you come or not. Maybe churches and people need to find a happy medium and reach out to each other in love!!

  3. Rachel

    Agreed! I think there is so much good food for thought I your article… however, as a member of the church with the helicopter-dropped eggs, I have to take a little issue with the throwaway comment. A newcomer to the congregation, I was a skeptic myself until I began to read calls for donations of plastic eggs and candy in the notices. Then I watched volunteers, families, and the youth group spend hundreds of hours personally filling the eggs- all 14,000 of them. When I arrived at the event, my children were greeted with face painting, cookie decorating, games, crafts, bible stories, a petting zoo… all. for. free. That’s when I realised that this event was indeed a grand gesture, but the message the church was sending wasn’t “we want your names on our contact list.” It was, “You and your whole family are welcome here. And we’re going to use the good china.” The icing on the cake was watching children from the church emptying their Easter eggs into the baskets of those who didn’t find many. I was well and truly humbled.

    I share this not because I feel the church in question needs defending, but because I think how churches build a presence in their communities is an important part of the question on church attendance. The Church HAS to change the way it communicates because communication is changing. Personally I’m developing a great respect for those congregations who can be creative while still holding true to the values of presence, community, and a warm welcome. Let’s hear it for thinking outside the box!

  4. Many people stay away from church because they don’t want guilt and shame heaped upon them when they walk through the door. Church for some is very intimidating. You come to church and one of the very first things you might hear is that you are not worthy of God’s love and grace. Christians can be very mean spirited and say/believe things that drive a newcomer away. The body of Christ must lead by example. We must learn to be humble and tell the truth about what it is like to be in Christ.

  5. Brent Wilcox

    For too long the Church has concentrated on the consequences of not following Jesus, rather than the blessings that are bestowed when we do. Younger generations have been told all their lives that they can do no wrong because it’s good for their “self confidence”. This creates an issue for a Church intent on tearing down to build up, rather building up to tear down. We have to change tactics. Rather than make people feel they need to fix themselves to come to God. We need to help them come to God so he can change their heart and they can lean on him as they change and grow. There is a place for harsher teachings, don’t get me wrong, but if we want people with no concept of God to hear and respond to Him. We have to make the message about God one of love, hope, and grace. So that they want to follow, not fear.

  6. Keri Kent

    I am a Christian and a weekend overnight rn so that I can be home and homeschool my kids during the week which makes going to church nearly impossible since most are open on Sundays only. I don’t judge but I always tell fellow Christians who shop, eat out, get sick, need a police officer or 911, need to go to the hospital, not to do it on Sunday so all workers can be at church. I then get the strangest looks and they understand that many Christ loving people must serve others on Sundays and dont compromise their faith. Dont forget Jesus healed on the Sabbath, the church is for the sick and so my question would be why not have services 7 days a week?

  7. I think sometimes it isn’t possible for some to attend, age, illness, not because we choose to stay home & do something else, but that said, we do feel we are not missed or noticed there or not there. A call or visit during the week when attendence isn’t possible. I don’t feel comfortable calling & asking for a visit or help, but sometimes it would be nice to know if we dropped dead, we would be missed or even noticed.

  8. Amy

    Thanks for making that point, Kathi. I happen to have an illness, and it isn’t always possible for me to attend church, but I have a close walk with the Lord and family that is there for me. I’ve had an experience with a church in my past that didn’t understand the illness I suffer from, and some there didn’t even seem to want to understand it. I suppose if my illness had been cancer, the attention and care to my family would have been there… The church was a larger church, a want- to- be mega church, and when we left NO ONE checked up on us to see how we were doing or why we had left. Seemed to us they were too busy to even notice… Our current church has been a better experience for myself and my family. We are loved and valued there whether or not we are able to have perfect attendance. My husband and I are able to serve in the capacity of being prayer warriors and in giving as the Lord blesses us. The beauty of the Christian life is that we all have spiritual gifts, and we can all serve in the capacity that the Holy Spirit has enabled us. I can be a prayer warrior in my home, when I can’t always be within the four walls of the church.

  9. Jim

    Shane, I like the post and I agree with your overall thoughts on church attendance. I grew up in a family where church attendance was minimal. As an adult, though, I am more aware of the need to be apart of a church body. My wife and I have been involved in church on a regular basis in varying degrees since we were married almost 20 years ago. We are trying to instill in our children the importance of church and encourage establishing connections with peers that are Christians and share the same values. One of the points that I want to make is that pastors need to be careful in their push for church attendance to not gloss over the fact that there are some Christians who are not able to always be at church every time the doors are open. Recently, our pastor has been pushing church attendance in his Sunday sermons so much that he almost implies that there are no valid reasons for not attending at all. Of course, that is not true. Such as an illness or old age. Along those same lines, I personally feel that attending every time the doors are open may in fact not be a healthy thing for you or your family. I would never suggest that church attendance is simply just another weekend option, but on the other hand, I think it is healthy for families to grow and live together outside the 4 walls of the church. There are numerous families that I have seen while growing up and in my adult years that spend so much time in church that it appears they have lost how to be a family outside of church. It also appears as if many of those parents abdicate responsibility for raising their children to the children’s ministry in the church. I guess my overall point is that there needs to be a balance, which is the difficult part, my hope is that those in church leadership understand that.

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