More and more self proclaimed followers of Christ are leaving church. A recent study revealed that among self-identified Christians, the predominant reason that non-churchgoers offer for not attending worship services is that they practice their faith in other ways. Almost half of evangelicals in this category (46 percent) say this is a very important reason for not going to church more often.
The truth is, many factors have contributed to the steady decline of church attendance. The biggest issue I see, is that organized church as a whole has unintentionally lost site of why church exists in the first place. Church gatherings have been institutionalized to the point where much of God's intended purpose has been lost.
So, what was the purpose for the early gatherings of believers? Here are some clues:
42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
The key words in this passage are:
Fellowship: partnership, i.e. (literally) participation, or (social) intercourse, (to) communicate
One Accord: unanimously:—with one accord (mind).
These words point to the genesis of church. What we see here in the early gatherings of believers, is that they gathered to be part of something bigger than themselves. Their assembling together was about engagement with one another, while experiencing the power of unity in belief. They needed each other, they helped each other, they served each other, and they worshiped and learned together. Their gatherings were a place of active communication and service to one another. The desire for this type of fellowship was so great that they met daily. Why? Because Christ designed it this way. It's in the gathering of believers where our faith has a life giving focus. The truth is, as we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we become part of His spiritual body. As an important member of the body of Christ, our service is needed. In the exercise of that service the truth of having new life in Christ is realized at levels not available to us outside of a church gathering.
1 Corinthians 12:12-14
12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.
1 Corinthians 12:18-19
18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
But yet, here in 2019, we find that there are churches on every corner, churches on-line, churches in homes, etc...With this kind of availability you would think church attendance among Christians would be growing and not declining. What's happening? What are the "other ways" of practicing faith that do not involve being invested in a local church body? I can't speak to what the alternatives are, but I can speak to what I believe has aided in the decline of regular attendance. On a large scale, I believe church culture has evolved into a "come and attend" model, instead of a "come and engage" model. For many, to be part of a church body has been reduced to showing up on Sunday to sing songs and listen to a sermon from the pastor. This model is present in every denomination. Yes, some add liturgical readings, kneeling, communion, greeting one another, etc...but it's still the "come and attend" model. People are being told what to do and they follow instruction.
Don't get me wrong, the church gathering is a place where teaching of the Word is needed. Worshiping together is a blessing and important. Communion unites. But that's not where it ends. It's where it begins. If this is where it ends, then why are each of us needed as part of the body? Why does it matter if we neglect attending church? Without engagement the importance that each member carries is never realized and regular attendance doesn't really carry an impact. The truth we can replace any aspects of church on our own time. We can listen to a message on-line. We can listen to worship music in our cars or in our homes. On our own, we can read devotionals and do Bible studies. We can even have our own family devotional time. These are all good and needed practices. But, you can't fulfill God's ultimate purpose for attending church on our own.
In Hebrews it says:
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
This passage states that the relational need met in a church gathering is why we don't neglect the gathering of believers. We NEED each other. Christ has made it that way. We can't be fully obedient to Him as His disciples and not engage relationally within a church body. We are called to serve, encourage, and love one another. This command is for the body of believers as to how we are to treat our brothers and sisters in Christ, not just our own family or a few friends. It's for the local church. The Epistles were written to local bodies of believers, to give direction and purpose to the gatherings, so that the WHY of the gatherings would not be lost. Each of us are a needed member of that body, placed strategically to serve and encourage each other. We each carry something unique that is needed by someone else. Literally, as Christ has created it, our neglect in attending causes the neglect of others within the body.
This truth, when digested, believed and pursued, puts things into perspective as it pertains to belonging and engaging within a church body. It creates value for our participation and puts higher value on the needs of others. Yes, things come up that prevent perfect attendance. It's not about perfect attendance. It's about active attendance. The more we seek out engagement when we gather, the more life we experience. Church then becomes a needed part of our walk of faith, because we realize the blessing it holds.
My purpose in writing this blog is not to try and fix all of church culture. Truth be told, there are many churches doing it right. I want to encourage those of you who are not regularly attending, to seek out engagement in the church body you have been called to. This focus will bring new life to your church experience. If you have been hurt by a church, don't let that negative experience ruin the true purpose of being part of a body of believers. You need it in your life! Seek one out that you can engage in and you'll experience the blessing of your participation. If you have left the church because your experience was nothing but an empty mechanical exercise, get back in with renewed focus. The church needs you, because Christ has a place for you within His body that only you can fill!
Pastor Russ Faillaci