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CHCH - What's Missing? (Part 3)


This post is part 3 in a 3 part series on church attendance. Previously we have examined social trends leading to declining church attendance and the theological and sociological implications of that trend (part 1), and then we looked at the individual's responsibility to turn that trend around (part 2). This week we are going to examine the ways that the local church can help create an environment where church attendance is valued and prioritized above other pursuits. You can go back and read the first two entries by clicking here, and here.

So what can the church do to help people make attendance a priority?

That’s a nuanced question, and there are a lot of different opinions on what the answer should be. Rather than go into a detailed explanation of the different models that other churches use, I want to talk about how we are approaching this issue at The Bridge Church.

There was a great article posted last fall by Skye Jethani borne out of a tweet storm that he posted earlier in the summer (I’ll link to the twitter thread here as the article was not made publicly available), where he unpacked how much of our experience of what church is all about is borne out of supply and demand economics related to sound Bible teaching, and how the internet and modern media has broken the model and is forcing churches to think differently about what a worship gathering should be. The basic premise was that at the time of the reformation there was a hunger for teaching and exposition with the advent of the printing press and that people flocked to churches to hear this Bible explained in their own language for the first time. Today, people can get great preaching just about anywhere on their smartphones. Usually much better preaching than they can get in the pulpit of their own church. The same goes for music. With the emergence of professional “worship music” recordings, the average church trying to put on a show on Sunday morning is being outclassed by several orders of magnitude by the song playing in the car on the way to church (often embarrassingly so). Those two pillars of experience that the worship service has been built around over the last few hundred years are eroding in importance due to an abundance of supply and a dearth of demand. So why should anyone come to church?

Well it starts by reframing the worship service around what cannot be offered anywhere outside of the church.

First that begins with the table. Now many of you will know that I am a sacramentalist at heart, but the longer I study the scriptures, the more convinced I become that celebration around the table of the Lord’s Supper is a non-negotiable part of Christian worship. It is the meal of the church, it is the express command of our Lord, and it is something that cannot be commodified, sold, or experienced in any real way apart from being physically present with the people of God. It is therefore an embodied practice that requires the believer to be present with the church to partake in. When we understand the importance of this meal, we will long for it regularly with the same passion that we long for all of our other meals – because it quite literally sustains and enlivens us with the power of God.

Secondly it means embodied preaching. Listen, I am well aware that I, as a preacher, am not the best option you have available to you. I know that in 30 seconds you can quite easily pull up a world class orator and expositor on your smartphone who would preach circles around me in their sleep. But what I (and other preachers in our congregation) can offer that no one else can, is an embodied, contextualized message that the Holy Spirit wants to deliver to you, on a given day, in your specific life situation. In the context of a local worship service the message takes on a lived character that no generalized message can compete with. It comes from the preacher’s experience with the flock, and their knowledge of the struggles, questions, and curiosities, while challenging the church with uniquely applicable exhortations that will not come from anywhere else.

Thirdly, it means intentional relationships. Anyone can go anywhere and be anonymous in a crowd. If you are only interested in hearing a good sermon and singing along to some good music, then why, in 2018, would you ever bother coming out to a church service? As we have already talked about, those things are available everywhere to everyone all the time these days. But what media cannot give you is community. And not the pseudo-community of our curated and artificial social media lives, but face-to-face honest interaction with other human beings who have been likewise saved by the same God and are pursuing the same Spirit-empowered life.

Fourthly it means participation. The church has a mission, and the church IS mission. It is the very presence of God in the world, and while we may associate with the Church more broadly then our local fellowships, it is only through the local assembly of the church that we get our hands dirty in the work of God. That sort of on-the-ground mission cannot be found in any other context than the local church.

Lastly it means accountability – which is where this whole extended exhortation is coming from. We are accountable to one another in the Body of Christ in a way that you cannot be sitting on the outside looking in. Those of you who have made The Bridge Church your home, have put yourself under the leadership of our elders, and those of you who have formally chosen membership have explicitly asked to be held accountable. What that means is that I have given our board of elders a mandate this year to pay extra attention to those people who are drifting from the commitment to meet together regularly and to follow up and ask why. Whether that is because you have entered a busy season of life and church has inadvertently taken a back seat to other important (but not ultimate) concerns; or because you have been drifting spiritually and simply have (if you’re honest) become undisciplined in your spiritual priorities (preferring instead the ministrations of Pastor Pillow at Bedside Baptist instead of the fellowship of our congregation); or if you are part of the growing trend of people who only show up to serve, and never to worship – we are asking that you don’t get defensive, or otherwise insulted by the question, and instead understand the place of love and care for you that it comes from.

Because you can’t be a part of the church if you don’t show up. And you won’t show up unless it’s important to you. And it won’t be important to you if you don’t see the value in coming. And you may not even realize what you’re missing unless we ask you.

So allow me to ask: why does church matter to you? And perhaps I can spark a conversation that won’t lead to me asking on some Sunday down the road: “Are you new here?”

Blessings,

Chris

#Attendance #ChurchLife

The Bridge Church

of the Christian and Missionary Alliance

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620 Oxbow Bend Rd, Winnipeg, MB R3K 2G1, Canada

©2018 by The Bridge Church.