By Dave Gipson
Sept. 15 is Back to Church Sunday.
Just who has the authority to make this declaration is unclear, but my church participates in a strategic way — we’re having services. Voilà!
But getting people to attend church is proving quite a task. Though Gallup has touted U.S. attendance at around 40 percent of the population, recent studies by the evangelical Covenant Church (covchurch.org) whittle that number down to a startling 17.7 percvent.
So why are the figures so skewed?
It’s really obvious when you think about it. Asking people about whether they attend church is right up there with “do you love your mother?” and “do you floss regularly?” Most people answer “yes” though they haven’t darkened the door of a church in years.
When I ask people what church they attend, half of them can’t remember the name! Another 25 percent name one they attend only at Christmas and/or Easter.
Sorry, but if that counts, we’re all Puritans from eating turkey at Thanksgiving as well!
I really do believe church attendance matters. “Yeah, of course you’d say that — you’re a pastor!” I’m just trying to drum up business, right? Well, not really. I’ll even go a step further
Do I believe you can be a good Christian and not go to church? No, I’m afraid you can’t.
Now, before you pick up your pitchfork, notice I didn’t say you’re not a “good person.” That’s a different sermon. However, if you claim to be a believer in Jesus Christ, I am talking about you. When you joined your life to Christ, you joined a “body” and that wasn’t optional. The Bible is actually pretty blunt about it:
“ ... Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” — Hebrews.
By definition Christianity cannot be practiced in a vacuum, but only in community. Our collected experiences with God help us endure life much better than going it alone. It keeps us from falling for spiritual error, because we’ve got mature believers around to reign us in.
Collosians says: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Sounds amazingly like a church service, doesn’t it?
As a Christian, this is not just a nice way to spend a Sunday — it’s your “calling”.
I’ve heard the “I can worship God just as well walking in the woods, or listening to music” argument. My answer is, “Well, of course you can! Who can’t get spiritual while sequestered in some paradise with no people around?” Try worshipping with a few hundred messed up people around! That takes commitment!
Of course I’m joking ... but not really. People are messy, and their problems are often contagious. While I enjoy talking with God in the outdoors, the Bible says that something special happens when “two or more” of us can get together without killing each other and worship.
Some misunderstand the purpose of church as simply “attending a service”. However, God never called anyone to merely “sit and watch.” Real “church” is when we actually get to know the people and go through life together. That was church in the New Testament — a family of people who shared each other’s struggles and joys.
Church was never intended to be a spectator sport, and you don’t get to squirt Purell over every situation. Volunteer with ministry to the homeless, share your journey in a small group — get your hands dirty! Jesus left the safety of heaven and got involved. It brought Him great suffering, but He couldn’t have helped us had He chosen to “phone it in” long distance.
It’s really pretty simple. If you really love football, I’ll see you at a stadium this fall. But if you just like it, catching a game on TV will do just fine.
Same thing with Jesus.
The place He designated for His followers to worship Him is the local church.
You may argue that your church is boring. Fine — go to another ... come to mine (obvious plug!). But seriously, you’ll find at least one church that suits you. That is, if you really do love God.
But if you just “like Him”, there’ll always be some guy with big hair and teeth preaching on TV you can watch instead. Pass the Purell, please.