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.
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?
When I started ministry in 1999 I had passion and vision, but not a lot of strategies and tools. There simply were not that many church growth/revitalization conferences or consultants and the one “expert” that I discovered in my denomination had only theories, but hadn’t actually done it!
Today there are literally dozens of voices whispering (sometimes shouting) into the ears of pastors, “This is the way to grow your church.” It can lead to a lot of confusion as pastors try to decipher what appears to be a secret code to success.
I have trained hundreds of pastors all over the world and have found so may of them are discouraged, disillusioned and depressed. It breaks my heart.
Many of them have tried to implement change in their church only to be slapped down, chewed up and spit out.
They have sincerely given their heart and soul to the church in an effort to reach their community for Christ, but have been unable to lead their church to change.
As I’ve listened to their stories I have found some common enemies to revitalization that have to be considered.
Somewhere along the way, many churches have adopted a form of government that they would swear comes right out of the Bible: congregational rule. The truth is, there really are examples of congregational rule in the Bible:
Numbers 13 – Moses sends 12 spies to check out the promised land. When they return, Moses calls a business meeting. The Spy Committee gives their report. The majority on the committee recommends staying out of the Promised Land. Joshua and Caleb, a 17% minority, recommends trusting God. Someone then makes a motion to add an amendment to have Joshua and Caleb stoned. Thankfully, the amendment is rejected. The congregation votes in favor of the majority recommendation.
The vote carries and an entire generation of Israel die a slow and painful death in the desert (much like the average American church).
Luke 23 – Jesus is handed over to Pilate by the Heresy Committee. Pilate calls a business meeting and speaks out of order (as the moderator) telling them that he finds no fault with Jesus. After deliberation and discussion someone calls for the vote. On the recommendation to have Jesus crucified, the congregation votes with an overwhelming majority.
The vote carries and Jesus is crucified.
Of course, I’m being a little silly, but trying to emphasize the insanity of a mob mentality. (BTW, I wrote about the 3 Menaces of a Mob Mentality)
One of the problems with congregational polity is that it only takes one or two toxic antagonists to sway the rest of the crowd. Case in point, Numbers 16 and Korah’s quorum.
Three men forced a special business meeting and called for a vote of no confidence against the presiding pastor, Moses. The results were less than positive, in fact, let’s just say the antagonists “suddenly” left the meeting incensed.
The church was was designed to be leader-led, not congregation controlled. Paul writes,
“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers (read LEADERS).
Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11–12, NLT)
Churches are meant to be led by vision, not votes; by pastors, not parliamentary procedure.
If the church is going to experience revitalization then the members must let the leaders lead.
When I first moved to my city I noticed a beautiful church building downtown. When I asked about the church I was told they only had 3 members and that they only meet once a month if the weather holds. I said, “Holy smokes! How do they keep going?”
I was told, “Oh, that’s not a problem. A former wealthy member died and left them a bundle. They could keep going on just the interest for another 50 years!”
The sad truth is that this is the picture of thousands of already-deceased churches all over the country. They died years ago, but they’re being artificially preserved with a trust fund or a fat bank account. Unbelievably sad when you consider what could be done with those resources.
Question: How does Jesus feel about things that are no longer fulfilling their purpose?
Answer: Matthew 21:18-22 & Mark 11:12-14 – The cursing of the fig tree.
Jesus was hungry and spied a fig tree. His first instinct was, “Oh good, there’s something made to satisfy my hunger!” However, when Jesus bent down to get some fruit there was none. The fig tree failed to fulfill its purpose for being.
What did Jesus do? Did He say, “No worries little plant. You just keep using up that space.”
Jesus cursed the planted and it died.
Sadly, there’s a world of hungry people passing by barren buildings every day that have nothing to offer except a delayed death.
God help us.
These churches need to surrender their buildings to fresh works of God and pour their resources back into the kingdom.
No one’s going to heaven bragging how they “saved up” a lot of money. Paul said,
“Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others.” (1 Timothy 6:17–18, NLT)
As John Ortberg has said, “When the game is over, it all goes back in the box.”
Churches are meant to be lighthouses not club houses.
Perhaps the saddest yet truest enemies of revitalization are dead disciples who have either lost their first love or never had it in the first place.
You simply cannot say you love Jesus, but you’re not willing to do whatever it takes to reach the lost.
Jesus, in answer to the question, “What’s the greatest commandment?” stated:
“ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37–39, NLT)
In other words, love for God and love for people are inextricably intertwined. If you say you love God, but you don’t love people, then you’re just kidding yourself. If you truly love God then you must love what He loves, and He loves people.
Churches that are not willing to do whatever it takes to reach their community are really saying, “They can go to hell. We prefer tradition over truth, comfort over caring, and preferences more than people.”
The letters to the churches in the first chapters of Revelation are quite shocking. Jesus tells the church of Ephesus that if they don’t renew their love for Him then He’ll remove His power and presence from their midst.
The sad reality is that for many churches Jesus has left the building and no one even noticed!
I’ve stated many times, some churches do not deserve a pastor. If the people are perfectly content with business as usual – no salvations, no baptisms, no changed lives, then I wouldn’t waste my time trying to raise the dead. As Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead.”
Shake the dust off your feet and move on. (Matthew 10:14)
There’s simply not enough time to waste just playing church. The people in our communities NEED the life-changing message of the gospel.
Jesus gave His life for the church. I believe that the local church, when it is living out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, is the hope of the world.
Nothing better reflects the kingdom in heaven than when the church is fulfilling its mission on earth.