I grew up in a culture of attending church twice on Sundays. Every Sunday. Which, although being a blessing that helped to shape me as a believer, was something I didn’t appreciate much at the time. It seemed like a burden. But as everyone came every week, most of them twice, it was normal.
As a pastor of a local church, I never quite know how many people from my usual congregation will be present on any given Sunday. I can tell you the number of members, but that doesn’t line up very well with the people who actually turn up. Most of the members do actually come every week, but a substantial minority would come one in two, or two in three. Speaking to other church pastors reveals that this is not just in our church! It is a general modern trend.
Why is this so? There are a number of common reasons. Events come up on Sundays, like concerts, birthday parties and fun runs. Sometimes it has just been a busy week with work and school and other events, so church becomes the thing that misses out so we can sleep in.
Of course, this is just speaking of the Sunday gathering, which is only one part of being in a church family. But the observation holds true for other aspects of church too; the Bible study group I lead can range from 7 to 20 people depending on the week.
When we compare this level of commitment to the Biblical example of church the contrast is jarring. The believers in Acts were always in each others’ homes (Acts 2). Meeting together regularly was the norm and those who neglected this were warned starkly (Heb 10). The church family was described as united in all kinds of important ways (Eph 2), and every Christian was to serve others in ways that built one another up (1 Cor 12-14). In fact, believers were to be so united that when one person was struggling everyone hurt, and when one person did well everyone celebrated (1 Cor 12:26). That requires regular contact with one another to know what is happening with each others’ lives.
The Reformed confessional documents also encourage regular meeting together. They call the preaching of the word, the sacraments and prayer as the means of grace whereby you grew as a believer. It was in the regular rhythm of being part of a church that God was pleased to grow his people. Neglecting the means of grace was a great danger to your faith.
So what has changed? Well, in our modern culture we easily approach the church as we approach everything else: as a consumer. We want something that serves us, and if church involvement doesn’t seem like the best offer this week, well we’ll just go next week. This neglects the Biblical emphasis which is on involvement with a local church in order to use your gifts to build others up. Neglecting church involvement means that others are not being built up by your gifts.
But what if you wake up on Sunday and don’t feel like going to church? We’ve all been there. It has been a busy week, the kids are tired, and here is an opportunity to have a rest. It must be said that this is a line of reasoning we wouldn’t apply to other aspects of our lives. We wouldn’t avoid work because we are a little tired and would prefer a quiet day; we have committed to work so we go. It also must be said that if we based our lives in general on feeling like doing things not much would actually get done. There have been Sundays I have not felt like going to church, yet have found those particular services ones that that were used to build me up in ways I had not expected.
Well, you might say, what about the birthday party or concert that conflicts with church? After all, church is every week, and this event is only on this week. The crux of this is that when faced with a choice, church loses. Church becomes, logically, the thing that you go to when you don’t have a better offer. And when we allow (or encourage) our children to consistently make choices of something else over church we are saying something loud and clear: church is less important.
I realize this post has been relatively negative, but of course there are many perspectives on this. Church on Sunday is a great blessing to believers. We visually see that we are not alone after being in offices and classrooms all week where we were probably the only Christian. We get to devote serious time and effort into God’s word. We have encouraging conversations and meet those who have been praying for us and whom we have been praying for.
There is great value in regular routine, especially in the Christian life. Coming to church each week gives a great opportunity to build deep friendships with people and to deepen in your knowledge and understanding of the Bible. Building these kinds of routines into your life will grow you as a believer.
Sunday should be something we look forward to, and not just to sleep in and relax. What a wonderful blessing: we have an opportunity to meet with our church family!
See you next Sunday!