I have spoken to several pastors recently who share the same concern: inconsistent attendance from church members.
Notice, the word “members,” which denotes those who have committed themselves to a covenant community for mutual edification, encouragement, exhortation, and evangelism. These people have expressed their intent to be a part of something which they are now neglecting.
Each pastor I have spoken with has listed different theories regarding the inconstancies in attendance. They have mentioned families who are worn out from a busy schedule during the week and want to spend “family time” on the weekend. They have brought up retirees who travel often. Some have mentioned the modern conveniences of watching services on television or via online streaming. Others have pointed to students on travel sports teams who play out of town on the weekends.
Whether the reasons are due to busyness or laziness, selfishness or apathy; two things are known for sure. 1) This is not a new problem, and 2) This problem must be addressed.
Not a New Problem
The writer of Hebrews pled with the early church to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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 10:24-25).
These verses are in the middle of a passage describing Christ’s intercession in our lives as our great high priest followed by a call to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (v. 22).
Meeting together as the corporate body of Christ therefore, is vital for the mutual assurance and growth of every believer.
Addressing the Issue
I believe pastors must spend time talking to their congregations about this issue periodically. In fact, it should be an expectation from the very beginning of membership. Churches should communicate the importance of attendance during membership classes.
But, how do you explain the importance of attendance without sounding legalistic? Here are a few thoughts:
- Explain that attendance is not solely for the benefit of the attendee. Instead, by attending, they are blessing all others in attendance. Physical attendance communicates love, support, honor, and respect for one another. Each member must “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”
- Attendance is an opportunity to express unity with others centered on Christ. When a diverse group of people gathers together, the unifying factor (in this case Christ) is lifted up and shown to be more important than their differences.
- Attendance is the most basic expression of commitment to the body. It is an opportunity to “encourage one another.”
- Attendance reflects our future. The Greek word we translate as “church” means “a called out assembly.” When the church gathers, we gather as those who are “called out” of the world. Corporate worship on earth, therefore, is a foreshadowing of heaven! Attendance stirs our hope in a future with Christ “all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
The attendance issue is not about coercing people to do something they don’t want to do for the purpose of bolstering statistics and egos. Instead, it is about helping others find joy in the privilege and responsibility of participating in the body of Christ!