However, when it comes to church attendance there are some factors that change the picture a little. It turns out that evangelical churches are not experiencing the same kind of decline that others are. More on that at another time. But another factor is that many people who are believers and who see themselves as belonging to a church don’t attend services as often as they did even a few years ago. Two researchers, C. Kirk Hardaway and Penny Long Marder, discovered that there is a huge group of Americans who identify themselves with a church, but who actually attend less than 12 times a year.
I personally have observed in my lifetime in ministry that people are less consistent in attending worship services than they were when I first started as a pastor. There are several reasons, I suspect. Youth sports programs now draw many away on Sunday mornings, something that was rare in my early days of ministry. But when Christians who attend services infrequently were surveyed about the reason for their inconsistent attendance the top response was that attending just isn’t that important to them. Other things, maybe just sleeping in, took priority.
My concern is not really with church attendance, except as a gauge of other larger matters. I’ve never felt it was either important or a good idea to make an issue out of attending services or to pressure people to do so. But underlying the attendance issue there is a significant matter that I care a lot about. It has to do with the question of why we would attend worship services. Most of us would probably say it is to be encouraged in our faith and to grow. That certainly is a good and important reason, but it is not the only one. It may not be the most crucial reason. Another reason is to encourage other people in their faith and to strengthen them. There is something powerful about worshiping God together. And there is something discouraging about feeling like hardly anybody else cares about worshiping God. Worship services give us a huge opportunity to meet together and connect, to remind each other that we are not alone, to remember that God is with us, to listen to each other in conversations and to support each other as we prepare to take on the world for another week. Sometimes we forget that just showing up for one another is often a big deal. The real issue here is, do I make decisions merely on the basis of what’s good for me and what I feel like, or do I make them on the basis of how I can serve and help others? The mind of Christ clearly is all about giving up self to serve and love others. That mindset, I think, will most definitely impact how we view “going to church.” How different we will be when we, like Christ, make it our goal to love and serve others rather than just do what we feel like doing.