By Mark Wingfield
As a pastor, I try not to take it personally when you stop coming to church.
Most of the time, I understand that it’s not about me and that it’s not even about the church. It’s about life and changing seasons of life and habits and so much more. And yet, sometimes I catch myself thinking, “What could we do to be more appealing?” or “What could we offer that would be so compelling that people wouldn’t want to miss a single Sunday?”
In my clearer moments, I realize there aren’t any easy fixes like that. We offer meaningful, thoughtful, intentional worship every week, and so gimmicks won’t really help attendance in the long term. Besides, even when we do come up with a Sunday that has all the bells and whistles, some folks still have to be out of town, at volleyball or soccer games, at college football games, and so forth.
Here’s some statistical perspective: The average “regular” attender at our church is present about two times a month. Turns out that is high compared to the average attendance rates at megachurches. This is a different world than I grew up in, when regular church attenders missed maybe two or three Sundays a year — for vacation and a sick day. (And by the way, if you’re relying only on weekly attendance numbers to gauge your success as a church, you’re looking in the wrong place these days.)
Our members today lead busy lives with lots of opportunities to be gone. It’s not just lake houses or business travel that pull us away; it’s a myriad of family commitments, leisure travel, athletic events, school activities, empty nest freedom and on and on. These are not bad things.
Here’s the caution flag, though: It’s easier than you would imagine to move from infrequent attendance to no attendance. I’ve recently talked with several friends who have just simply gotten out of the habit of going to church. It’s not that they dislike the church or purposely want to be away. Instead, one thing led to another, one Sunday brunch led to a series of late mornings, and suddenly they realized they hadn’t been to church in months. And then they didn’t know how to make a re-entry without people asking where they’ve been and without feeling guilty.
I can offer a whole set of reasons why church attendance is good for you, including the theological and the practical. The bottom line is that we need to be reminded regularly that we do not live unto ourselves. The best way to keep that constantly in mind is to take time weekly to worship the Creator instead of worshiping ourselves and our busy lives.
So, no guilting here; just a friendly reminder that it’s easy to get out of the habit of doing the things we say we believe. And here’s some good news: Your place is still open at church, and we’re eager to see you walk in the door — regardless of how long you’ve been away. I hope to see you at church on Sunday.