Missing In Action
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 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.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
In my 30 years or more of ministry, I’ve heard a lot of reasons as to why people don’t go to church. I’m not talking about unbelievers here. I’m talking about those who have professed Christ as Lord over their lives. Often times it comes down to past hurts. Someone once accurately said that if a church of one thousand members splits over some controversy, you don’t end up with two churches of five hundred members each. You end up with two churches of maybe one hundred members and eight hundred people who will never darken the door of a church again. Justified or not, this is a big reason some no longer go to church.
Another reason people don’t go to church today is that people feel they can get their spiritual needs met in some way other than the local fellowship. With the advent of the internet and satellite television, there are certainly a lot of Christian websites and channels to choose from, and if you don’t like the guy on one station, you can simply turn to the next guy. Besides, you don’t have to fight the crowds or even sit through the preliminaries (or the offering!).
Another factor in our day contributing to the drop in church attendance is the change in our society. It used to be a pretty advantageous thing for businessmen, public figures, or even the average layman, to go to church, even if their own personal faith was somewhat wanting. It portrayed them as having a certain moral center that spoke of honesty and integrity. It meant they were grounded and trustworthy. However, the nominal Christian is leaving the Church today as our society has adopted a more secular word view, and identification with the Church has lost its value. Granted, most people who once went to church and have fallen away did not likely have such mercenary motives for attending church in the first place, but the end result is the same nonetheless. There is more empty space on the church pew today than there was a decade ago.
Pastors today are also dealing with a different kind of church member than they did a generation ago. Whereas people use to choose their church based on conviction, today more and more people go “shopping” for a church based on preference. It can almost be like shopping for a car, checking out different makes and models to see which one has the better amenities. Thus, the commitment to the local fellowship is more superficial, as a rule, and fewer people are willing to work out the issues they have with other members of the church family. If there’s a conflict, they can simply start over at the other church down the street. In fact, we live in a generation with disposable relationships on almost every level, including marriage. If that’s true of our closest personal relationships, it will certainly be true with our church connections.
The problem with all these reasons for avoiding church is that they miss the point as to why we’re supposed to be going to church in the first place. The writer to the Hebrews begins his admonition to stay connected to a local family of believers by saying, “And let us consider ONE ANOTHER in order to stir (one another) up in love and good works…” (v.24). Again, to capsulate all the excuses I’ve heard over the years as to why people do not go to church, have dropped out of church, or simply are slack about their church attendance, it all boils down to one thing: it’s about them. I’ve never, in all these years, heard anyone say that the reason they were avoiding the house of God was because they thought that by doing so they could better edify their brother or sister in the Lord. No, their considerations were about their own needs, wants, or feelings.
Since we live in such a clearly ego-centric society, it is not surprising that the world has this kind of influence on some in the Church, but the plain fact is that when we become like the world we lose to our ability to be an influence for Christ in the world. Make no mistake, this attitude toward church attendance is not a stand alone issue. It is symptomatic of a much deeper spiritual problem. We may be the land of the mega-church, but while our churches have become bigger, our commitment to God has not gone deeper. All the apostles of the Lamb, save for John, died a martyr’s death for the testimony of Christ, but today the sad truth is that many people can be talked out of their commitment to the Lord and His house for almost any reason. In such cases, we haven’t made disciples, we’ve made customers, too often ready to walk away from our “product” at the slightest provocation. While this is certainly not true of many believers, it is true for far too many, and the loss of the Church’s influence, particularly in the West, is evidence of that.
Faithfulness to the house of God is not, and never has been, a negotiable issue. Despite the hurts we may have experienced, the many other choices we may have to nourish ourselves spiritually, the Church is indispensable for our spiritual growth and health. It is there, at the local church, that one can invest into others the unique gifts and grace God has entrusted to us. It is at the local church where we develop strong relationships, which, by the way, are made, not found. It is at the local church that we learn to love and be loved by people, who, like you and me, are not perfect and can be a challenge. That, by the way, is how we grow and mature. That’s not to say that there won’t come a time to make a change as to where we fellowship, but a good rule of thumb is to always be led out by the Spirit of God and not driven out by anger or resentment.
There are others in the Church that hold in their hearts what you and I need to learn and grow. Likewise, we each have things to impart to others that will contribute to their spiritual journey. We want the Church of Jesus to grow, but even more, we want it to grow up and reflect the full measure of the stature of Christ (see Ephesians 4:11-16). It is essential if we are to present an authentic witness for Christ in the world. Those who study this kind of thing say that only about fifteen percent of Millennials (that is those born from about 1980 to 2000) are believers. That means the fields are white unto harvest for a Church that has its focus set in the right direction, not looking only to our own needs but those of a lost and dying world that is quickly running out of time.
The above article was based on recent research released regarding the downward trend of church attendance in America.