Last week I wrote about going back to school, but did you know that some churches also capitalize on this season for going back to church? The thinking is that the people who have taken a summer vacation not only from school but from church need to be rallied to return in the fall. The intention is good, but the unintended consequence is that it makes it seem like sunny weather is a legitimate excuse for summer absence.
The great majority of people in our culture don’t need to be welcomed back–they need to be invited for the first time! So by all means invite folks to join you for church services. If the autumn season provides an opportunity or an “excuse” to reach out to people, then use it. But the issue of church truancy is now a year-round problem.
Last month Lifeway Research reported on the reasons why churchgoers skip services. Number one reason? Severe weather conditions. OK, that’s reasonable. But at least half also would skip to enjoy an outdoor activity, to get some extra sleep, or to meet a friend. A sizable number would also skip to avoid travel in the rain or to watch a sporting event. This means that for most, it’s not a habit but a choice to be made week each week based on if there are “better” options. On the bright side, almost a quarter say they’d never miss worship intentionally for any of that.
So many miss because it’s no longer important to them. They assume God doesn’t mind if they skip out more often than not. According to another poll by LIfeway Research last year, most Evangelicals (2/3rds!) say worshiping alone is a valid replacement for church attendance. That’s a shocking increase of 14% in just 8 years. What happens if that trend continues?!
No, you don’t have to go to church to meet with God. But He is the One who gave us the Church. He owns, oversees, rules & cares for it. It’s His family; His Son’s body, even His bride; & the Spirit’s temple. So yeah, it’s a big deal. And if you’re thinking, “We’ve had a tough week. Work was a bear, the kids have full schedules with activities every day, we’ve got lots of chores around the house to catch up on, & actually, we’d just like to have the weekend to ourselves to unwind & recoup.” Think about if every Christian had that attitude. Would there even be a church to attend anymore?
Shouldn’t the times when you don’t “feel” like going to church be the times you especially should? What if you treated every other aspect of your life like that? Those who stay healthy & fit work out when they don’t want to. It’s the same with spiritual discipline. Yes, it’s a “discipline”–it’s a habit. But don’t approach it like exercise or just a habit–prepare for it joyfully, pray for it expectantly, participate in it fully. Skipping church is often a sign of trouble. It becomes a bad habit of neglectful apathy, disconnected isolation or self-sufficient pride.
What if God started the Church not for His benefit (He doesn’t need anything) but for ours? What if putting church as the priority to begin your week would actually make your week go better? But ultimately, Church isn’t about just meeting personal needs, or even corporately worshipping. It’s a movement that’s subversive to the social order. We’ve seen the decline in church attendance over the past several years with the concurrent rise in the moral death spiral of our culture. Think there might be a connection?
You might concede that it is important, but you can always just watch online (at least occasionally, right?) & have the best of both worlds–some spirituality without the hassle of showing up (getting dressed, driving, checking in the kids, interacting in the lobby). But Church isn’t just about consuming content, it’s about having an experience that’s wholly different than all else. There’s power in the community you experience. I’m glad we provide online services as a supplement–but the intent was never to become a substitution.
When you watch online, there are distractions, multi-tasking, pausing. You’re probably not really singing. You miss out on sharing in weekly communion (not just fellowship, but the actual Lord’s Supper). If you have kids, they miss out on being trained up in the ways of the Lord, experiencing positive peer interaction, & being exposed to godly, caring teachers & role models.
One of the interesting songs in the musical “Hamilton” comes when Aaron Burr is lamenting about being excluded from a meeting of some of the Founding Fathers. He bemoans being left out of “the room where it happens.” He wants to be where important things are happening. YouTube church is not the same. Facebook fellowship is not as good. Sometimes that’s all you can do based on health or ability to attend. But they don’t meet the biblical criteria for actually getting together to bless & serve one another. Newcomers don’t receive hospitality if we’re not there for them. Emojis can’t take the place of seeing genuine smiles or comforting someone in tears. You definitely miss out on the “holy kiss,” which of course is modified to our age as the holy hug or handshake (Rom. 16:16).
Maybe for you it IS time to get back to church. Or maybe it’s time to show up for the first time. And when you do, be sure to invite others too.