Justin Taylor, along with Gene Veith, cite an article by Robbie Low in Touchstone about the statistical relationship between attendance of church by a father/man-of-the-house and whether or not their children will be regular worshipers as adults. The gist is that the likelihood that children will attend worship regularly as adults decreases dramatically when the father is not a committed attender. For what it’s worth, the data was collected from Christians in Switzerland in 1994.
I’d encourage you all to read those posts and that article just to get your head around this beast of an issue, but I’d like to extrapolate to a broader point, not based on international research, but based on pastoral observations of the struggles of one local church here in Denver.
I cannot tell you how many families I engage with who are committed followers of Jesus whose worship attendance averages 2 out of the 4 weeks in a month. A year and a half ago, I posted on why skipping church is like shooting yourself spiritually in the foot. Here are the contributing factors, in my opinion:
- Postmodernity, which is anti-institutional, anti-authority
- The success of the emerging church movement in captivating a sizeable minority of evangelicals (and non-evangelical Christians)…for the many helpful things the emerging church has done, they have helped encourage the above postmodern values
- Our hyper-busy culture: when young couples start having kids, or when many adult singles bury themselves in a work-hard-plus-party-hard lifestyle, they get sucked into the vortex of hyper-busyness; there is always something to do, always something to get distracted by
Furthermore, I wonder how many worship leaders experience what I experience. My most committed worship musicians and leaders tend to follow the same trend of 50% worship attendance. This truly breaks my heart…for them and their children.
Some folks have told me that they end up “doing church” at home with their nuclear family or “worshiping God” as they behold His beauty skiing or camping in the Rocky Mountains (a particular problem out here). Unfortunately, at home and in the mountains: (1) your God-ordained leadership (your pastors) are not there to lead you in worship; (2) you can’t rightly celebrate the sacraments (because they are a communal act of the whole local assembly); (3) you can’t receive the edification of the Holy Spirit that only comes in the sacred, communal act of the gathered local church (Eph. 5:18-19). The longer I pastor, the more I am convinced that there is no replacement for the regular, weekly worship-gathering of God’s people.
What’s the remedy? Though some in my church would encourage me to do this, I don’t believe it is helpful to “preach against” this sin (yes, forsaking the assembly of the people is a sin, folks [Heb 10:25]), because that just creates worship-attendance Pharisees, big on legalism and small on the Gospel. My only options, I feel, are to:
- Continually preach the gospel as the perpetual starting place of all growth and maturity
- Continue to pour my heart into designing and praying for worship services which captivate the heart
- Find creative ways to winsomely communicate the benefits of worship-attendance
Do any of you folks out there find the same things going on in your churches?
You list some good reasons and explanations. We in ministry know how disconcerting and, as you note, heart-breaking, this trend is today, even with matrue believers. We continue to amuse ourselves to death in this sensate society, as the late Harold O.J. Brown used to comment upon. Especially burdensome this is among worship leaders, who pray, prepare and seek the Lord about the hearts and minds of their people. They prepare messages perhaps with people in mind that fail to turn up to be fed and guided. When they do not show for debatable reasons, the spectre of self-reliance, expressed through an entertainment culture "to have it all" or live spontaneously on weekends because we can, rears itself.
People also do not see the short-term liabilities of missing worship corporately. We live so dependently upon these measurements. It is only when they look back and see the how the skipping pattern ate into their marriage bind, was corrosive to their kids's discipline for church, and kept them milk-oriented for a decade or two, that they feel the regret or being ill-equipped for leadership. Imagine if the church pastoral staff hit worship about 50% of the time, not that they would want to, but did to mirror the practice. There would be an outcry. Yet, just being there to practice Christ's presence is part of the burden of loving and caring.
Apparently, it is not a trend just for our age, as Hebrews 10:24-25 gives a lament over the habit of some not meeting together, and that in a more inhospitable climate. I suppose adult men and fathers would figure in that lament as well. There is also a hymn stanza that speaks to look to the day when the churches are full (I forget it at the moment).
I would add also that a de-valuing of the Lord's Day, or Sabbath routine, accounts for some of this as well. One does need to be Sabbatarian to correct this. But the significance of a "day" to meet corporately is soft-peddled or rejected out of hand for the "blessing everyday" alternative that says meeting together on Sunday is just another spiritual value choice where God is present with me (us). But in the same resplendent way? No! Maybe that is what you meant by the emergent church affect.
I think your approach is right in how to address it. Scolding is not going to create the blessed consistency we long for on the inside. but appeals to the heart and demonstrations of its value are the long term strategies for greater discipline. May the word not return void here! Praying that God will create instances in their lives where they are more compelled by the biblical logic, and feel more deeply the need for their lives, is an ongoing one, that I know you endorse.
In the end, it may take a cultural hit socially where they come routiinely because they know they are spiritually safe and edified no where else. Like the Roman Christians in the early centuries A.D. who met in the catecombs outside Rome and attended more than once through the week just to sustain their trembling hearts and hopes. I did not mean to write so much here, so I'll stop to catch my breadth.
Everyone, READ EVAN'S COMMENT ABOVE! Great additions…put better than I could have put them.
Zach, thanks for the encouragement. But yikes, I thought I proof-read it better than I did. A few correctives are needed.
(Please excuse the compulsive editing reflex in me. It must be what word-processing over time does to a person. We keep mulling over the same material again and again like analysts in a library rather than push forward to new heights of creative expression and innovation.)
1. I meant to say half-way down, "One does NOT need to be Sabbatarian to correct this." (I meant this in a legalistic sense).
2. I meant "marriage bond," not "bind." in second paragraph.
Zack, how much public emphasis does your church place on membership? I find few churches with liturgical worship that do. Although membership is not clearly stressed in the scriptures, in our culture it is how we define a covenental relationship with the church and that is what I think is lacking. Many folks view attendance on Sunday as they do watching a weekly TV show. It's good if it happens but no big deal if not. My theory is that where you find commited members you will find folks engaged in community. The Sunday morning worship service is often the main point of entry for new folks but does very little to engender community. As post-moderns we crave the conversation not the monologue that is characteristic of Sunday mornings. Thoughts?
Thanks, Dirk. Our church strongly emphasizes membership. I believe it's biblical, and some day I'll post on it! I don't know that, in our case, membership makes a HUGE difference on regular attendance, although the issue has caused me to perk up on this subject when teaching our new members' class. Still, the allure of the mountains is strong in Denver.
Interesting thoughts on the correlation of liturgical worship. I'll mull over that one. I'd describe our church as evangelical worship with a liturgical "embossing."