CHCH - What's Missing? (Part 2)
This post is part 2 in a 3 part series on church attendance. You can go back and read part one by clicking here.
Last week we looked at broad trends in the church across North America. Church attendance isn't what it used to be, or (as I argued) what it should be. But the trends are not just macro-issues that we can ignore; they are very localized as well. Over the past 2 years we have seen a steady decline in church attendance at The Bridge. That’s not the sort of information that a pastor is eager to put out there for critique, but it cannot be ignored or brushed aside as inconsequential. At the same time, the elders and myself have been engaging at an increased intentionality at connecting with churchgoing households through our flocks. And what we have discovered during that time is that the number of people who have “left” the church over that time period (for whatever reason, good or bad) doesn’t even come close to the decline in attendance that the church has experienced. What accounts for it more substantially, is a decline in attendance among those who consider themselves regular attenders. People who would, without hesitation, declare that they were active members of the church family, but whose attendance falls far below what would historically be counted as “regular.”
This has created a number of problems for the church to function as an organization as the shrinking volunteer pool has made filling ministry spots more challenging and has accelerated burnout among those who have stayed involved by placing a larger burden of service upon them to keep things running. It has also had a downward pull on church revenues as those who attend less frequently, give less regularly, which has limited our capacity to keep the same levels of programming going as volunteers drop off. And lastly (and most importantly) we have seen a correlation between spiritual vitality and maturity and regular church engagement. That last one is more anecdotal than the others, but it is nonetheless pronounced.
Well the response to that question is two-fold: First we must ask what we can do as individuals and families, and then second, we must ask what we can do as a church family to deal with this issue. This week on the blog we are going to examine the first of those two questions, and then next week, in our final post, we will examine the second.
As individuals and households, we need to ask ourselves honestly, what priority does church fellowship have in my life? Is it the most important thing in my calendar? Is it among the most important things? Or is it way down the list? I don’t mean to be overly accusatory, but the reality is that for many people it’s pretty far down the list. There are always things that take us away from attending regularly, from work, to family commitments, to recreational pursuits, to vacation and holidays. At any given time, those things can be perfectly legitimate reasons to miss a service, but on the balance of the year, what do your choices say about your priorities?
Now you may discount my opinion here because of what I do for a living, but I need to be honest with you, I feel out of sorts when I don’t attend church. When I’m on holidays and far away from Winnipeg, I look for somewhere to worship on a Sunday morning – it feels wrong when I don’t. When I’m in town and have a rare Sunday off, when I’m not doing anything in the service, I hope you’ve all noticed that I still show up. Church is not about the jobs we do, or the service we render, it’s about gathering with the family of God to worship. That’s something that I need in my life, irrespective of whether I need to be there or not. And I know that many of you feel the same way. This past winter, my son Harry was on a recreational indoor soccer team. It was a great experience for him, but a busy one for our family. Practices were every Wednesday evening, and games were almost every Sunday. And we worked hard to get him to as many games as possible. If the game started in the afternoon, we got out of church as soon as we could and headed across town to whatever venue he was playing at. We even tried to make those obnoxiously early 8:30am games because we knew that we could attend and still make it to church in time for worship. But many of the games happened at the same time as our worship service on Sundays and on those weeks, we made the decision as a family that we were going to make church attendance a priority. Even though there were many opportunities when Joanna wasn’t serving that she could have taken him, I believe that she only missed two services all winter due to Harry’s soccer games, while Harry missed many more games due to church. Why do I tell you this? Because we have made a decision to place my son’s recreational activities below regular church attendance on our list of priorities. Not because soccer is bad, but because church is more important.
What is it in your life that might be more important than church?
That’s really what it comes down to. It’s not a problem to miss a service once in a while because something really special comes up; or to miss a service or two because you are taking a well-deserved vacation. It’s a reality that many of us will miss services because we are forced to work on Sundays, or because we get sick. But look at the balance of the calendar and then ask yourself what your attendance pattern says about what is most important in your life? You might not like what you see. So much as the choice is yours, where does church sit on that list? The hard truth is that we find time for whatever we consider important. What have you found time for in your life at the expense of regular attendance?
I don’t say these things to guilt anyone into coming to church more often, but to exhort you to take seriously the words of Hebrews 10, and make regular participation in the life of the church family a priority, for your own benefit!
But what can the church do to help people make attendance a priority?
That’s the topic for next week’s final installment in this three-part series on church attendance. Check back then to learn what steps we’ve been taking at The Bridge to deal with this issue from an organizational perspective.
See you then,