There's a trend across the country among good, church-going people: Attending a weekend service at their local home church just once every two or three weeks. Seems like the new norm for many. As other church leaders across the country have observed, it's particularly noticeable when those volunteering seem to attend only when they're "scheduled" to serve.
I have thoughts on this behavior.
- People are busy. And busier. Kids are in multiple sports leagues, some of them weekend traveling teams. After a 60-hour work week people are catching up on sleep, home projects, and recreation.
- Busyness - and all the activities within that busyness - emerge as apparent higher values than the value of being with the gathered Church in a church service.
- We offer online church - on–demand. Regardless of the great reasons to offer an online experience, it certainly offers convenience in the busy schedules of people's lives. They can benefit from the experience without driving, dressing or expending energy or time.
- We’ve taught with clarity that “you’re the church where you are.” It doesn’t all happen in the “box” on the weekend. It seems people are learning to live that out... with an apparent effect on church attendance.
Some would insightfully argue: "So what's the big deal? Church isn't the box. And following Jesus isn't about weekend service attendance."
True. I agree with both observations. We ARE the Church; it's not a building. And attending religious services doesn't earn spiritual brownie points.
So why show up for "Church" at the box?
- Edward T. Hall's theory of proxemics has long demonstrated the need each of us has for relational spaces that are "public" in nature, as well as more personal, even intimate relationships. The weekend experience provides a God-designed public sense of community. Regardless of congregational size, this large group community draws us into belonging to something much bigger than we are.
- Our culture of individualism leads many of us to practice the false law of "exception," where we make our journey with Jesus "private," excusing ourselves from the temptations, challenges, and growth curves that others face. "That message doesn't apply to me." "I'm past that." Discipleship certainly happens best in personal relationships, but the norms of the larger group learning and worship, remind us that we're all in this together. We aren't the exception. There's still room to learn regardless of our age or spiritual journey.
- While that's true, the weekends aren’t merely about us. Our guests – that we personally invite or not – need us on the weekend. They need our modeling: This is what it looks like to engage worship through praise. We all need to listen and learn. There is a next step toward Christ for each of us. We're all on the journey - even those of us who too often like to appear that we have it all together.
- People who don't know they matter to Jesus, or who are in a season of doubt, need our prayers around them - even silently - throughout the service. It's the least we can do with unknown kingdom impact.
- The Holy Spirit works spirit to spirit, human to human, using each of us to minister grace, encouragement, and partnership to others around us. Often with friends, but certainly with people we'll have just met for the first time. People looking for hope and help show up at the "box" and they often find that hope and help through other human beings willing to stop, listen and care.
- All of us - together - create atmosphere, develop culture and establish environments. Guest services teams are not the only individuals responsible for creating a warm sense of welcome and acceptance in the public gathering of the Church. Guests aren't scoring welcome points to the guest services team. They are intuitively experiencing "belonging" through anyone willing to engage them. Each of us who calls our local church "home" is responsible to everyone else there.
Don't read what isn't here. I'm not asking for church attendance rules or rewards. I'm not elevating activity over journey. Nor am I seeking religion rather than relationship. Of course...
- People will and should be away for vacations.
- There will be appropriately prioritized family-focus weekends that take us away from our local church services.
- Work doesn't always allow us to be present every weekend.
- Most of our week will be spent in our homes, neighborhoods, schools and work places. There - in those places - we are the Church. There our worship of God gets lived out. There we are the Church scattered alone and in smaller communities to demonstrate grace, forgiveness and acceptance.
However, examining the opportunity of public community as the Church-gathered is worthy of our time, thought, and practice. It's worth considering: Why show up faithfully for weekend services?
What are your thoughts? What else should be asked or considered?