A blog from the pastors of CityLights Church.
Let’s face the elephant in the room. Some people just don’t come to community group or Saturday service anymore. There are probably many reasons for this: work, prior plans, exhaustion, lack of valuing the corporate gathering of the church and/or other distractions…the list can go on and on. As pastors, we realize, and value, that work is essential and, for some, their work schedules prevent them from gathering. However, the many other distractions and reasons cause us to pause and ask God, “Why?”
In generations past, attendance at church gatherings seemed to be of the utmost importance. People would only miss if there was an emergency or if someone were deathly ill. So, why are some of us, who are completely able to gather with the church, not gathering together, and what can we learn from it?
One main reason is that our lives are busy. Many people work 40+ hours per week and when the weekend hits, rest is essential. We get it. Our fast-paced society keeps us on the move, so we rest when we can, however some within the church seem to view the church gathering as optional or unimportant.
However, consider this: we have 52 whole church gatherings a year. If you go to 25-30 of them, you’re a “part time” church-goer. Our jobs, rightfully so, are seen as necessities to support ourselves, but gathering together with the church family, which supports our spiritual growth, seems not be given its proper place and priority. Think of your biological family. Would you gather with them only part time?
As the pastors of CityLights, whom God has called to teach and shepherd you for God’s glory and your joy, we must decide how to address the significant drop in attendance, since it is so important to the maturity, mission and community of CityLights Church. What should we do?
Option 1: Use Guilt
Sure, one option is to misuse Scripture in an attempt to make you feel guilty in not coming to church. We could call or text you with pressure to get you to come back. However, we realize that using guilt, condemnation or pressure does nothing to change the heart. We certainly do not want anyone to think that “church attendance” is something to check off a spiritual “to-do” list, or is indicative of their holiness or cause someone to think of the church as just “the building.” And let’s face it, speaking the truth in love and shepherding like Christ does not consist of manipulation.
Option 2: Avoid the Elephant
As pastors who take seriously the call to shepherd the flock among us, we don’t want to run the risk of ignoring the importance of the corporate gathering of the body of Christ. We also realize that avoiding the issue is failing to shepherd you away from the idols of comfort and leisure that can be keeping you from gathering together to worship the true God with other believers. For some, a baseball or football can become Baal (an idol) and leisure can become lord. We are not called by God to ignore things that can hinder your growth in Christ.
Option 3: Evaluate Our Own Hearts and Give You Jesus
We realize that it is possible to “do church” and “do gatherings” without truly seeking God or relying upon Him. We, as pastors, have been convicted that prayer has been neglected in our gatherings at times. Jesus’ ministry was marked by His dependency upon God, the Father. He even disciplined people within the temple for neglecting His Father’s house as a house of prayer. We are convicted to pray more with one another (as pastors) and to prioritize seeking Him first, so that our hearts don’t gravitate to “doing church” or “doing gatherings” for any other reason than coming together to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving one another through God’s presence and by God’s power. Therefore, we are asking you to do the same.
When the church gathers to truly worship God and seek Him together, something supernatural happens. We gather to hear from God through the Bible, worship and love Him through corporate prayer and through the worshiping community of His body. We do this because we’ve been redeemed and we love Him. However, when our motivation becomes to do this because “this is what we do,” versus doing this because “this is who we are,” we lose focus on Him and who He has saved us to be: one body of Jesus Christ, loving Him and loving one another through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We want to experience this together with you and one another. Do you?
When we see ourselves as sinners saved by grace and called into the family of God as dearly loved children, we will no longer view the gathering of the church as a “got to” but as a “get to” since it plays such an integral role in our growth in Christ. This gospel, by which we are being saved, changes everything. It changes our low view of church gathering attendance, to recognizing the gathering place as absolutely vital to our growth together as the body of Christ and as maturing disciples of Jesus. Shouldn’t the good news of Jesus Christ dying for our sins to set apart a people that are His very own be a good motivator for gathering with one another to enjoy Him together? Should a member of the bride of Christ be willingly separated from the body of Christ?
In closing, we realize the best way that we, as pastors, can motivate your attendance is not by guilt but by grace, continuing to repeat the refrain of your redemption: Jesus Christ died for you, so now live for Him and in Him! It’s not just to fill your spiritual gas tanks with the weekly sermon (after all, we have an app for that). It’s not to check a list off your spiritual attendance (after all, your attendance doesn’t make you holy). No, it’s to celebrate Jesus and what he’s done. It’s to gather together to proclaim the gospel and be transformed by it. According to Hebrews 10, the gathering is the place where the confession of our hope is put on display and we’re urged to cling to it tightly (Hebrews 10:23-25).
This is not written as a condemnation but as an exhortation. We are exhorting one another to long for Him, and we long to seek Him with you. We exhort you to prioritize your attendance for church gathering services and community groups, as a priority above leisure, comfort, or other things that can get in the way. We urge you to fight for consistency despite things that can come in the way. We love and care for you, and realize that our Father loves you even more. We want your ultimate joy, which we know comes from beholding and becoming like our Savior together. Your church attendance is vital to that, and us being reminded of why we attend is critical…oh that we may know Him and love Him together!
Questions to ponder/for discussion:
1. Read Acts 2:42-47. What observations about the church gathering do you see? How often did they gather? What was the end result, according to v.47, when the church gathered together regularly?
2. Read Hebrews 10:19-25. In v. 22-25, what are the four commands given for the church to do? What is the one warning not to do? Reread v. 19-22. What is the author’s motivation for the commands and warning?
3. Read Hebrews 10:25 and Hebrews 3:12-13. Notice the word exhort/encourage used in both passages, one relating to the gathering and one relating to every day. Why is exhortation among the gathering of the saints important to your growth? Can you fully walk with Jesus without exhortation?
4. Read Colossians 3:16. How does the word of Christ dwell in you richly, according to this verse? How does church attendance play a role?