Various surveys and polls over the past two decades have shown in statistical form what normal powers of observation have noted for quite some time. When asked about their level of participation in church, the typical survey or poll has shown that only about forty percent attend with any regularity. On the local level, we have seen trends that show that for the children and pre-school ministries in our own church, the average attendance for the little ones comes in just about on target with the national numbers–about forty percent attendance for children lining up with that same percentage for the adults who bring them!
A couple of important observations come out of such data.
First Observation: Whereas I have great confidence in the numbers compiled from our own weekly attendance records, that level of confidence is not there with the national surveys and polls. Why? Well, to put it bluntly, it has long been discovered that people lie to those asking them questions about their participation in spiritual endeavors! For example, those same surveys indicate that 17% answer that they tithe in their giving to their churches, but the actual numbers in the realm of all charitable giving to spiritual causes comes out to only about 3% leaving a gap of 14% between the reality and the wishful thinking of those responding.
When that criteria is applied to church attendance, the 40% number reveals a highly optimistic view of actual practice. Hard data from churches indicates a much more sobering situation with the percentage falling closer to 20%, half of what is reported in polls! Many suggestions have been offered for the disparity, but perhaps the most telling one is that people want to think of themselves as more connected, more engaged, than they actually are. Why? Because they know they should be far more committed than they are.
Second Observation: The culture has introduced a destructive perception that church engagement is just one of many options available each weekend, even for those who say they believe in Christ, perhaps even trust Him as Savior, but have little interest in following Him into the vibrant life He has designed for them within the body of Christ. Confessing faith in Christ, a majority of those who call themselves His disciples have largely abandoned the church except for the occasional appearance to keep some sense that they have not rejected His plan altogether. Church attendance falls way down the list of priorities when other opportunities present themselves as sports events, travel, even household chores often push commitment to the body of Christ to the side.
A Word of Hope: A positive cry is rising up around the nation. The call to come follow Christ the way He outlines it in Scripture is reaching college campuses, singles populations in major metropolitan areas, among young families who are realizing that they need greater connections than they currently have to others heading in a godward direction.
The biggest objection in every generation is that the church is full of hypocrites so why get locked into a dying institutionalized religious system? And can anyone deny that stinging accuracy of that charge? But does it stand to reason that the answer is to abandon, neglect, deride and eventually reject the body of Christ? For all the blemishes on the Bride of Christ, she is still His choice. He still intends for there to be a marriage of the Bride to the Lamb of God and like it or not, the church is His bride!
So the call goes out. Study the Word and discover afresh the beauty He intends for His bride and determine for yourself to become an active, engaged, reforming influence within the church. We need to depend upon and trust Christ. We need to believe that His way is the best way. Therefore, we need to accept the fact that His way calls us to be the church He longs for us to be.
If you have bailed out, when do you plan to jump back in? What will it take for you to return to your calling from Christ to be one of many “living stones” chosen by His grace to be called His people? Many have stated correctly that you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. True. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. However, the Scriptures never give any indication that a follower of Christ does so apart from a body of committed believers who love Him and each other as they seek to grow up together to spiritual maturity.
So before you dismiss this challenge as the ramblings of an out-of-touch pastor, consider the exhortation of the following great passage from the book of Hebrews to a Christian culture in the first century that was already witnessing the same trend we see today. And after you consider this passage, search the Scriptures for yourself and see if it is not true…Christ Himself calls you to belong, to serve, to grow and to be sent from the local assembly called the church!
And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near (Heb. 10:24-25).
So…where are you going to assemble with others tomorrow morning? And will you commit to engage there and find the sweet satisfaction of a whole-hearted commitment to follow Christ in everything…even in the church?