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.
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.
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.