Church attendance. If there is something I never really thought would concern me as a “postmodern” millennial mature-ish believer, it is church attendance.
I was raised in a cultural reality where church attendance was mandated. Much in the same way one might go to school or piano lessons. It was never a discussion or even something to be challenged. Sunday mornings were made for church and we would be in our pew. At least we got stickers in Sunday school on our attendance sheet. Yes, there was an attendance sheet . I had gold stars.
As I have aged, this somewhat dogmatic way of viewing our presence at church seems to have shifted. The idea now seems to be, go when you feel excited and eager. Let your heart and your desire lead you into communal worship. If you have other things you want to be doing, those needs matter just as much: go hiking and connect with creation, read your bible in bed, sleep if you had a hard week (or “hard” weekend).
I don’t know if this is some generational reaction to the rigidity of our parents, the pendulum swinging to the opposite end of the spectrum. It might be. Or it might be a Spirit led change that was needed. God definitely is concerned for our hearts and wants us to desire him above all things. He is also concerned that we “receive our daily bread”- a somewhat Christian way of saying “get our needs met” (you know, eating, sleeping, exercising – some of the “good” things we might substitute for communal worship).
But now that I’m a church planter and a leader in our community, I must admit it is driving me a little bit batty to watch people who love Jesus not attending church.
I believe it matters that you are at church. I feel the impact of your presence.
First, I must confess this is not something I am particularly proud of. I never cared about someone else’s church attendance before. It never even crossed my mind. If I noticed I figured “let God take care of it” and “Don’t be quick to judge”. It didn’t mean I didn’t want them to come and be with me on a Sunday morning, but I felt less concerned than I do now.
Now things are different. I notice when people say things like, “I needed to get some sleep” or “we are going camping again” or “there was going to be parade traffic”. This has been hitting me harder and harder. People not attending our service impacts me. And it’s taking a lot of self control and patience not to say “what the what??”
Noticing and worrying about a lack of church attendance makes me want to pray into this area of my life and call out to God:
Does it matter if we are at church Lord?
What’s the point if I can also meet with God as I rest in my bedroom or on a mountain in the sun? Why even go?
As I have sought answers to some of these questions I have been googling. Watch out (for my proclivity to google and for the links I unearthed). There are lots of articles and blogs already written about this topic. It is apparently an epidemic. You can find somewhat light hearted and helpful articles like “99 Reasons you should go to church”. You can also find posts that are flat out manipulative and controlling.
In my what you might loosely call, “research,” I realized I do not want to add to these posts. In my frustration and my feeling of powerlessness over others’ choices, I do not want to manipulate or control or oversimplify. I actually need to express my weakness in confession (as above) and also ask you to consider these things with God.
I believe it matters that you are at church. I feel the impact of your presence. Others do too. I imagine God feels this impact as well. Would you be willing to ask God to reveal his reasons for you to be at church regularly? I know he cares about this part of our community life and your life specifically.
I also believe there is something unique and different about gathering together in a church setting that the other “good” options don’t offer. (In my least sassy and snarky voice I want to say, go enjoy creation, read your bible in a coffee shop or take a nap, ANY OTHER TIME than the 1.5 hours required to be present at a church service.)
If you want, here is how you can help me (and any other members of our community who might be feeling my frustration). Please talk to God. Pray for me (and others) as we struggle in noticing the numbers on a Sunday. Pray for our wisdom as we listen to reasons people have chosen not to come. Pray for us to be consistent in patience and love and joy working for the good of our people.
Also pray for God to lead you. If he wants you in church weekly, I am trusting that he can work that out with you. And if he were to have other plans for your Sunday mornings I want to trust him in those things as well.
Last, I want to say thank you if you have attended services at St. Peter’s Fireside. At the end of every service one of our leaders says, “Thank you for bringing the church into this building”. You are the church. We are the church gathered. If you have given up your morning to be with me together with God I am substantially appreciative. It is my joy to gather with you. And what a precious gift you have given me. I might be a little eager for more, but I am grateful for it none the less!