Twenty two years ago, I was appointed as pastor for the first time, to a small church outside Berrien Springs, Michigan. I attended worship on the last Sunday of my predecessor, a local pastor who was heading into retirement. On his last Sunday as a pastor, the attendance was up from the usual numbers, because people wanted the chance to say goodbye. So he chose to make his last sermon into a harangue about worship attendance. Even as a newbie, I was pretty sure that was a bad idea.
Worship is central to my life and my faith, and worship gives me great joy. It is for me a fountain of life that renews me every week. I hope it’s the same for you, but I know that it’s not that way for everyone. I just attended a conference where I heard a few things about church attendance, some of which I knew already:
- people these days think of themselves as regular attenders if they attend once every month to six weeks.
- Most people who identify themselves as Christians never go to worship.
- Jesus told us to follow him, not to go to church.
- For many (or most) people, participation in a work project or study group is more important and spiritually meaningful than worship.
- Most people are more likely to accept an invitation to participate in a work day or a discussion, than an invitation to worship.
It’s clear from those statements that most people have experienced too much bad worship, without joy, without a sense of community. The worship they attended (perhaps only once!) didn’t inspire them to advance in their connection to God. No wonder they don’t see the point in such a life-sapping experience. No wonder that the old-time effort to “guilt” people into attendance stopped working a few decades ago! Many people in America have shaped their negative opinion of church based on exactly one visit to worship. It was so bad that they felt no desire to try again.
I’ve been to poor worship myself. I’ve experienced the absence of inspiration and joy. I empathize with those who have turned away, and I only wish they would have found a better experience. That’s because I want people to be continually lifted up in their attempt to follow Christ. I believe that we need to be in this together, and worship helps that happen. I believe that we need to learn and be challenged by people who are one step ahead of us on the walk, and worship ought to be that chance.
If you’re a person who has been staying away from worship, for whatever reasons, please consider giving it another shot. A bunch of us will be here on Sunday mornings at 10, hoping to welcome you well.