Some of the fondest memories that I have as a child happen at the church. I grew up in a Christian home and my parents believed in attending church faithfully. There is no doubt if there had been a church attendance award my family would have won it because there was not a time that I can remember that we missed going to church. We would attend Sunday school, morning worship, Sunday evening Bible study, Sunday night worship, Wednesday night family training hour and every revival service, prayer meeting, and special event that the church might have. Without a doubt, we were going to go to church. So hear me when I say I was raised in the church house. You see just thirty years ago the church was the center of the community. The church house was the place where social interaction took place. The church was the place where you worshipped God and experienced the presence of His Spirit but it was also the place where you made connections. In those days you wanted to get to church early and have conversations with people and most of the time no one was in a big hurry to leave after service was over but you sit around and talked with people. After Sunday evening service there was a local restaurant where you would go with friends and have a time of fellowship, for us that was Dairy Dream a local hamburger joint that had the best French fries in the world. The point is that the church was a place where people lived life together and made connections with one another as well as with God. The church was a place where you found support and you made life long friends. Attending church was not something you had to do but it was something that you wanted to do. Sunday was the best day of the week and something that you all way looked forward to.
Now if we fast-forward to where we are today things have changed dramatically. Many churches have cut out Sunday evenings and Sunday school is all but a faded memory to most churches. Though there are churches that do a great job with small groups, which has become the modern day Sunday school, there are many others that have no points of connection at all. There was a time when we worshiped with all our heart and then spend time with one another but now we come into the church in a hurry and we leave just as fast as we came. Many churches that have multiple services have cut the time of fellowship because they have to move people out so the next group can come in. This has caused us to have a disconnect with those that we worship with. The truth is that proximity does not build relationships. Meaning that just because you sit by someone in a worship service every week does not mean that you have a relationship. You see relationships come out of fellowship and spending time getting to know one another. So many people run into the church and then run out as fast as they come and because of this, it lessens the experience. Without connections, there is no accountability and it is easy to just stay home. Church attendance is not a major concern to many in the church.
Problems we Face
Now first let me say that this is not a worldwide problem in the church as most countries have a strong church attendance. This is more of a western cultural problem or more specific an American church problem Now I think there are several reasons which helped to create this culture where church attendance is not seen as important. Now know that the main reason is that the church is fighting an enemy that does not want us to attend church and will do anything to stop us from coming together in worship and fellowship. But there are reasons that I believe we can see as well. First, the church is no longer the social interaction hub that it once was. Whereas the church was the place where you connected with people there are other ways today. Social media is now where people interact with one another. Social media has become the hub of the community and a place where people connect. The problem is that a screen and a keyboard will never take the place of human interaction that occurs in the church. Whereas we use to have handshakes, smiles, and conversations about kids and life, we not have smiling emojis, likes, and comments. We can have a conversation without ever coming in contact with the person. This can be a good tool but it cannot take the place of a personal connection with another person. Looking someone in the eye and seeing his or her reaction when you talk. We communicate without conversation. We would rather text than even have a phone conversation because of our overwhelming schedule. I mean we do not have time to have a verbal conversation, because we are way too busy binge-watching the latest Netflix’s show. Yet we have all had that time when we misread the mood of a certain text from someone due to the fact that you cannot determine mood electronically. Because this has become our major form of communication attending church is not as important to many people because they prefer not to interact in person anyway and so they do not see the need in being apart of a real person community.
The second problem that I see in church attendance is the ease of watching church online. Now do not get me wrong I feel that online church is a great tool that the church needs to use. I mean reaching people that do not attend church, shut-ins, or even members that are at home sick or even those on vacation that want to tune into their church is great. The problem is that there are many that could be in attendance that chose the online platform. I mean they never have to get dressed. They can attend church in sweatpants, a tee shirt and never comb their hair. The problem with this is no matter how good the presentation, no matter how much money is invested in the production, or how well it is done; the online church will never beat the church experience. The presence of God that is in the room will all ways outweigh the experience on the screen. I mean there is something that happens when a community of faith meets together in one place and begins to worship Jesus. The moving of the Spirit changes the atmosphere and it does something inside of people. God honors us when we make an effort to get up and get dressed and come to His house. Yet the church has made it so easy for people to not attend and we never let people know that the in church experience is what they truly need.
Thirdly there are so many distractions and let us be honest ours is a culture that is easily distracted. In the early days, the church did not compete with everything that we have today. I can remember when there were very few businesses that even opened on Sunday. If you wanted to do anything you had to go to church because there was nowhere else to go. That is not the way it is in our society anymore. The church is not the only thing on Sunday. As a matter of fact, very few places even think about closing on Sunday anymore. The church is no longer the centerpiece of the community and in many ways, the church has become something of an outsider. The secret church is what we refer to when we talk about churches in countries where great persecution is going on. Churches must worship in hiding or face prison or death but the truth is that secret church could refer to many in America that want to go to church unnoticed because going to church is no longer looked at as being apart of the norm. Many in our culture actually look down on those that claim to be Christians rather than hold them in esteem. Church attendance has not only become unimportant but it has almost become counter-cultural.
Does Church Attendance Matter?
So the question is does attending church faithfully really matter? Well, the short answer is YES. There is no place where we can experience God in the same way that we can in a community of believers that have come with one purpose and that is worshipping God. The Bible says, “God inhabits the praises of His people”. The word “people” is plural, and there is something about corporate worship that brings us into the presence of God like nothing else can. James says, “If there be any sick among you call forth the elders, pray the prayer of faith, and they will be forgiven of the sins, and healed of their disease”. Notice again that it is the connection that we make with one another that God uses to bring healing into our lives. Christianity is done in the community and without the community, one cannot live the Christian life to it’s fullest. Attending church allows us to experience God in a powerful way within the community and enables us to live the life of a disciple.
Church attendance also strengthens the connection that we have not only with God but also with people that are facing the same situations that we are facing. There is strength in number and making connections with people matter to our spiritual health. Coming to church gives us hope and helps us build our faith as we hear the Word of God and see it lived out in others around us. Attending church helps us build relationships with other saints of God that will pray for us, encourage us and hold us accountable when needed. Attending church gives us a safe place where we see that we are not alone in living out our faith and that we have the same vision as others along with the same struggles, and many of the same experiences. These are things that we cannot get on our couch in our living room watching on a screen when we could be in the house of God. Now let me stop and say that I believe God honors those that cannot attend church but long to, but even shut-ins need human connections with other believers and the church should do all that it can to make those connections. A text message is a great tool but it will never take the place of a real face-to-face verbal communication. Christians need other Christians in their life.
Lastly attending church is a family affair. Several years ago a man informed me that the reason that he did not attend church on Sunday evening was that that was family time. As a pastor, I was curious about what he meant by family time. He informed me that every Sunday night the family would go out and watch a movie at the local theatre. I thought to myself how is going to a dark theatre where you cannot talk, and watching a message that comes out of Hollywood consider family time, but coming to the house of God and worshipping together in the pew, and hearing the message of God is not. Listen, church attendance is a family affair. The church is a place where everyone in the family is given the message of God. If we want our family to be stronger then we need to worship together. Though I believe in kids church and youth programs, I also believe there should be times when kids have the opportunity to see mom and dad worship God. This does something to a kid, it builds something inside of them. Take it from one that was made to go to church but because of that come to know the Lord at an early age and is very thankful.
Church attendance is important and as Hebrews 4 says, even more so in the day we live. If you have not been attending church then let me encourage you to go to church. If you have been hit and miss, stop, and make up your mind that you are going to get in and get connected. If you have not made your kids go then stop doing that, be like Joshua and declare that you and your house will serve the Lord. He will bless you for the effort and you will make connections and build relationships and grow stronger in your faith.