There’s a lot of talk nowadays about how the church in the United States is dead or dying. People point to all sorts of objective statistics or subjective opinions about why. You might imagine how I, as a pastor, find this of interest, and why I’ve invested a great deal of my time in researching this issue.
Frankly, the church has changed dramatically in the last 50 years or so. I grew up in the church. All my Sunday mornings, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights were spent at church. Add to that events like Royal Rangers, youth group, choir practice and a potluck or two every month, and you can see how central the church was to my life.
Nobody played youth sports on Sunday. (I wasn’t even allowed to ride my bike on Sunday).
No one would think of staying home from a church meeting to watch TV (not even football).
If the doors were open, we were there. End of story.
And here’s the thing: That was normal. Most of America went to church, and if you were an evangelical, your church attendance was a lot. An awful lot (and sometimes it truly was awful).
I’m grateful for my heritage. The church provided a place to make friends that did influence me. However, few of those who attended church impressed me with their godly character (myself included).
Church was a building.
Church was an event.
Church was a religious and social activity.
And attending church was more of a habit than a way of life.
Church was something I did. Something I showed up to on a regular basis. Something I attended, but not something that profoundly affected me at home, at school or in the community I lived in.
Sadly, church attendance did very little for me or for anybody else as far as I could see. That may seem harsh or overstated. But my religious experiences and activities didn’t do much to change my heart or the way I lived.
It seemed to me, growing up as a church attender, that too many—far too many—were good at being self-righteous white-washed tombs and not so good at being like Jesus Monday through Saturday.
Why Don’t I Care About Church Attendance?
Maybe you can relate; maybe not. But here’s my point: No one should just attend church. Instead, we should be the church.
God doesn’t want us to be religious but truly righteous. He doesn’t want consumers but contributors. Jesus didn’t call us to just attend a church building once a week. He challenged us to become a force that changes our world.
So, please don’t show up for church meetings, sing a few songs, listen to some guy or gal talk, drop a few bucks in the offering, glad-hand a few people and then leave as if that were church.
Sitting in your seat (and you do have a spot that’s yours), consuming some more “spiritual” food, and even clapping a bit doesn’t make you an effective disciple or follower of Jesus.
Good disciples—great disciples—do church together. They don’t just do meetings; they do life as partners. They are co-laborers committed to one single purpose, the advancement of God’s Kingdom and the fulfillment of His mission: to help people find and follow Jesus.
Great disciples serve others selflessly and sacrificially. They get off the bench and get into the game. They find needs and use their gifts to meet them through God’s grace and power.
Great disciples make it a priority to practice the teachings of Jesus at home, at work and in their neighborhoods. Of course, they’re not even close to perfect, but they practice what they preach, and they never stop learning and growing.
Great disciples don’t just attend church. Instead, the church is something they attend to with every ounce and fiber of their being because the church is the Bride of Jesus, the Body of Christ and the family of God.
For these amazing followers, church is not a sacred place filled with pews, candles and stained glass; it’s how they do life.
They understand that the church is people. God’s forgiven and grace-filled people loving, learning, growing, serving and caring for each other and the world in Christ’s name.
Certainly the church is far from perfect and at times even messy. But it’s a fellowship of the broken who lay their lives down for one another because their Lord laid down His life for them.
So, let me be clear…
I’m not suggesting anyone stop gathering with the church on Sundays. Our regular and faithful involvement in a worship service is essential to our growth.
In a church service on Sunday is where we celebrate together. That’s where we can learn from the teaching gifts God has given His church. That’s where we can invite our friends and family to “come and see” because we know they will encounter something beautiful, authentic and life changing.
So show up when the doors are open (not 15 minutes late, btw). God created DVRs so you could record the Seahawks and not miss a far better celebration of the saints!
As my pastor and friend Joe Wittwer loves to say, “You can’t truly be the church without attending. Church isn’t something I can be by myself. The word for church in the New Testament was ekklesia, and it’s the Greek word for a civic meeting. The church is people meeting together because of Jesus. You can’t eliminate the meeting part and still be the church.”
Of course, gathering with the church matters. But please don’t just sit in a meeting. Don’t just attend without engaging. Don’t just do your church-thang a couple of times a month (the average for most, now), and think you’ve done your duty.
Be the church in every way, as both a force in the world and as a connected community of faith. Today. Now.
Demonstrate the radical love and power of Christ wherever you are.
Yup, I hope to see ya Sunday, and Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday…loving Jesus and being the church everywhere, and all of the time.
24 Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them
toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love.
25 This is not the time to pull away and neglect meeting together,
as some have formed the habit of doing, because we need each other!
In fact, we should come together even more frequently,
eager to encourage and urge each other onward as we anticipate that day dawning.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (The Passion Translation)
This article originally appeared here.