Dear Pastor Jay,
I am a twenty something professional who works at one of the bio tech companies in RTP. When I moved here a few years ago I decided I would make the Bible Church my home church. I do in fact consider your church to be my home church. I don’t attend other churches, and whenever I am at worship, I have a great morning and I feel like Jesus meets me every time. But I will be honest. Between vacations, visiting family, my love of the outdoors, getting sick, and often simply needing to rest, I find that I attend once or twice a month. Your series in the gospel of John seems like a blur. I have probably picked up about five of the sermons, total.
Lately you have been talking about making church a big deal in our life and therefore we should get plugged in. Part of me gets that, and wants to have more community with the church, and to find a place to serve. But, I don’t have family in the area and quite frankly I work so hard that I am exhausted on the weekends and need to rest. I cannot fathom having a weekly responsibility or the sense of responsibility to other people that would come if I joined a life group. But then I feel guilty that I should make church a bigger priority.
Here’s the thing. I’m a young man. While I don’t attend very often, I do download your sermons regularly, I hang out with solid friends, and I do intend to make church a bigger deal once I get married, and definitely once I become a father. So, what do you think about my situation. Don’t young professionals have a special situation where weekends can be a bit more fluid and one’s relationship to the church can be a bit more fluid?
Thinking out loud,
Kinda Sorta Attender
Dear Kinda Sorta Attender,
Let me begin by being very pragmatic and idealistic. Then I want to ask you some questions that will attend to your heart and will force you to go to the issues behind the behavior.
Upon arriving here I realized that a good portion of our church does not attend regularly. I noticed that quickly because I came from a church in a very traditional culture and that church was a staple in the community, so most of its congregation attended most Sundays. We had a very predictable and stable attendance chart. The Triangle is a different bird. For a host of reasons, there are many more distractions on weekends and also the demographic is different. Church is not as much a staple here. So, I figure that about fifty percent of our church attends fifty percent of the time. That is a big variance. Our Sundays can vary drastically. Less so now, but it still happens. If everyone came at the same time, I think people would be surprised at how large we are. But, they don’t. This is a phenomena many church, in many locations, experience all the time, even mega churches.
So, what is the ideal? Well, vacations are important. We get sick and need to rest and protect people at church. And, family should be a priority and often we need weekends to visit them. But, if you back all of that out, one should be out 8-10 Sundays a year, which leaves a good portion of Sundays where you are back in town. What about hiking, backpacking, and other fun weekend events where you hope to have both days free? Yep, I think you could include that in the 8-10 weekends. I was being pretty generous with that number. That is like two and a half months, you realize? So, the ideal is if you are in town, you should simply want to be at church, with your spiritual family, worshiping Jesus.
Now, not everyone is going to be churched or believe in church that much, so figure twenty percent of a healthy missional church are unchurched or spiritually immature attenders for whom church is not a priority. That leaves eighty percent of a congregation that should be accountable to a high view of church, and who make every effort to attend when in town. So, a healthier number, in my mind, would be around 80/80 – eighty percent attend eighty percent of the time. Not absolute, but wise I think.
OK. It sounds like you are a part of our crowd who are at church less than half the year. Think about that. Half the year. That is a very disconnected church reality. That is superficial at best. So, here are some questions.
1. It sounds like church is more of a burden. When you are tired, it sounds like church becomes a source of more fatigue. Why do you feel this way? Why is church not a source of pleasure and rest?
2. Have you looked at the Bible and what it has to say about the church, especially in the NT letters?
3. Are you noticing issues in your life that you know do not please God and are perhaps attached to your detachment from church?
4. Have you ever tried to holistically dive into a church and give of your time and energy, in a committed way where your attendance was necessitated?
5. Are you the product of either a home that viewed church attendance legalistically (which drove you away) or was overly slack (which didn’t drive you anywhere)?
6. Are you substituting other institutions, like sports, leisure, or other non Christian communities, for a local church, hoping to find the same stimuli but in a more controllable, less demanding, less soul requiring package?
I think my questions make the point. My big burden for you is that you are missing out on so much fulfillment and joy. Church should be a joy – a discipline, yes, but a joy. I talked about loving obedience this past Sunday. Same goes for church. If you love Jesus with all your heart, and you believe the church really is the body of Jesus (his representative, his family, the plan A of truth, community, and mission), then you should love the church. I fear you have allowed certain things to cloud that. Friend, this is not about an arbitrary desire for us to be a church with a bigger Sunday attendance. Quite frankly, part of me wants to avoid the potentially unavoidable reality of a building campaign if our attendance keeps growing at the present rate, but my real concern is that the Bible church be full of people who experience the life giving reality of gathering as a church to worship Jesus, by praising him in song, reading his word, hearing his word preached, and by being physically together in community. That is both a healthy church and one which is very useful in God’s hands.
The assembling of the church is a spiritual thing. Read Hebrews 10:24-25 on this. The writer says that the reality of the gospel itself is made known in our coming together, so we can stir each other up to love and good works. Friend, you need church because church provides things it alone can deliver. Seriously, the local church is a spiritual reality and Jesus is known in a special way in and through it. So, I’m going to ask you to put that in your theological pipe and smoke it! And, by all means, test this against the Bible.
I would love for you to love the local church. It is a powerful and special institution, and someday I hope to hear that you schedule your life, out of loving obedience, around the worship of God’s people, rather than the other way around. Friend, you will find so much more truth, family, and purpose in doing so.