By Brian Moss
“Can I borrow your tie for church?”
“Sure Beav. Just hurry it up so we aren’t late for church!”
Ahhhh. Those were the days (or at least I’ve heard that)!
Church leaders who have been around for the last few decades know this ain’t the 1960s! Christians simply aren’t attending church as frequently today as they did in the past.
Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, and Carey Nieuwhof, church leadership blogger, have recently written about the dramatic decline in church attendance in North America.
Forty years ago, an active church member attended 2-3 times a week.
Today, active members attend 2-3 times per month.
For church leaders, this phenomenon is making it increasingly difficult to disciple our people.
I know, I know, going to church doesn’t make one a Christian any more than standing in the garage makes one a car. Simply attending church services will not build a vibrant relationship with Christ. However, we also know that weekly worship with the body of Christ IS one of the keys to a vibrant Christian life, which is why pastors are concerned with this recent trend.
It’s no big surprise that when you see a true believer begin to fade from church they also typically begin to fade from their faith. That’s why Satan works overtime to distract believers from weekly worship.
What are some of the distractions that diminish church attendance?
1. Possessions, and power and position…Oh my!
Americans suffer from “affluenza.”
The average American family has more disposable income now than ever before and that attributes to more options.
A generation ago the norm for a family was to plan an annual 1-2 week vacation for which they saved up all year.
The new norm for families is to plan 3-4 mini vacations a year, usually centered around holiday weekends, of which, Easter and Christmas have become the prime targets.
Add in some birthdays, anniversaries, reunions, the kid(s) getting sick, and special occasions and the average middle-class family could be out 10-15 Sundays!
“Bye pastor! We’ll see you in a few months.”
I’ve had members over the years that created a seasonal rhythm to their attendance. They take off from church for 2-4 months and then attend church in their “down season.”
Whether it’s camping, the summer condo, hitting the beach or the snowbirds, these families have adopted a rhythm that radically impacts their regularity (and no, fiber won’t help).
Throw in some mini-vacays on top of their down season and these families may be out as much as 20-30 Sundays a year.
Another distraction is when a believer forms a relationship that influences them away from God.
I’ve seen this occur many times over the years. Members who were going strong, but then developed a relationship with someone who either was not a Christian or was a professing believer that did not value church attendance.
It’s such a travesty. They fool themselves into thinking that they can draw close to people who aren’t close to God without it impacting their own walk, but they are nearly always wrong.
Nine times out of ten, when a believer forms relationships with someone who doesn’t share their values, that person pulls them away from church, not the other way around.
Jesus gave everything He had to establish the church. When we diminish our devotion to the church, we are saying His sacrifice was really “no big deal.”
At the end of the day your calendar reflects your convictions. You spend the most time with what you hold the most dear. If you love God, then you will love what God loves and God loves the church. The Bible says: “…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, NIV).
Truly born-again Christians make church a priority not out of some legalistic obligation, but because they desire to honor God and build their faith.
Let’s be honest, there are some who come into our churches for a season, but burn out quickly. I call them “Bottle-Rocket Believers” because they get fired up, make a lot of noise, and then fizzle out. Perhaps one of the reasons many people who once went to church no longer attend is because they never really experienced salvation at all. Jesus said, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father…” (Matthew 7:21).
Christians who really want to grow in their faith have to swim upstream and go against the current of culture. If our people make church attendance a priority for their family, the world will not applaud; the sports leagues will not adapt their schedules; and the schools will not alter their holidays.
The reality is our culture has shifted and churches will also need to shift.
Pastor, if your only disciple-making strategy is for your people to show up in order to grow up, then your church will eventually die.
It may have been nice to have lived in a culture where everyone went to church. That makes for a great Hallmark movie, but it’s not the world we live in today.
The good news is that that wasn’t the world in which the church was born!
Knowing this, church leaders need to make changes that adapt to the culture without abandoning the mission.
Yes, we need to teach the biblical basis for making weekly worship a top priority. However, we must also learn to lower the number of times we are asking people to come to a building while increasing the number of ways we mobilize them to be the body. Sounds like a good topic for another blog!
What would you add to this list?
Brian Moss has served as lead pastor of Oak Ridge Baptist Church in Salisbury, Md. since 1999. He has a passion for coaching pastors and has taught thousands of church leaders all over the world. He also the Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for Purpose Driven Coaching.