CHCH - What's Missing? (Part 1)
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
“Are you new here?”
As a pastor, that’s one of the more terrifying questions that I ask on any given Sunday morning. Especially in the first few years of ministry in any congregation, the assumption that someone whom you haven’t seen before or don’t have much familiarity with is new is a dangerous assumption to make. It’s akin to asking a woman with a bit of a belly bulge when she is expecting – sometimes it pays off, but the price for guessing wrong is steep.
You never know when you’ll ask that question of someone who has been a part of the congregation longer than you’ve been pastoring, or in some cases, longer than you’ve been alive! You never know if that person has been an on again/off again attender for years who you simply haven’t noticed before. You never know if that person will be deeply offended at the notion that you don’t know who they are, or don’t consider them part of your regular flock. But it’s a reality that is becoming increasingly common in my experience in ministry, and one we need to address.
People don’t come to church as often as they used to.
Don’t just take the anecdotal observations of a pastor as your proof – sociologists are noticing this as well. Barna Research, which is the leading American Christian polling and research firm has had to redefine what it means by regular church attendance for sociological purposes over the past decade. Ten years ago, regular church attendance was defined as someone who attended worship service (outside of special events like weddings and funerals) a minimum of three times per month – or generally, 75% of the time. Many pastors like me would like to bury our heads in the sand and believe that this is still the case. In reality however, as you track the steady decline in church attendance overall in the last ten years, what becomes evident is not so much people leaving the church (with the exception of young adults – but more on that in a moment) but the trend of “regular” attenders attending less regularly. From a sociological standpoint today, what Barna considers “regular” attendance is once every four to six weeks!
You can imagine what impact that sort of shift is having on the spiritual life of those congregations.
When people don’t regularly attend church, they are less likely to:
Read their Bibles
Consider how their faith affects their worldview and behaviour
Maintain intentional spiritual relationships with other Christians
Serve in the local church or view their service in the broader community as an extension of their ministry in the church
See the value of attending church (yes, this means the more you come to church, the more value you will see in coming to church)
Pass on their faith to the next generation
And this last point is where sociological research has been the most damning. People continually ask, with exasperation, how we can stop the next generation from walking away from their faith entirely? The sad reality borne out by countless studies, is that children and adolescents who grow up in homes where church affiliation, participation, and attendance is not a priority, are at greatly increased likelihood of deciding that there was no value in it anyway. In other words, if you don’t take church seriously when your kids are young, they more than likely won’t take it seriously when the choice is theirs. As the old saying goes, far more is caught then taught when it comes to faith.
The harsh reality is that unless people take seriously the exhortation of the writer to the Hebrews, many (if not all) of the spiritual benefits of our relationship with Christ begin to wane and disappear. There is no such thing as a voluntarily disconnected Christian. And we are seeing the effects of such a deleterious trend even at the local level here at The Bridge.
What does that mean for the church? And what can we do about it? Next week we will look at that very issue and see if we can’t both identify the heart of the issue as well as a strategy to deal with a shrinking church.
Check back next week for part 2.