Several years ago, I stopped by a pastor friend of mine in the suburbs of a major city. It was a church of 2,400 people and he was one of six or seven pastors. When he gave us a tour of the church, I noticed in the bulletin that the previous week’s attendance was about 1,500 people. I said to him that attendance was down last week. He replied, “No, that is about average.” I said, “Where are almost 40% of your people week to week?” He said, “I have no idea.” He explained that as a bedroom community of a large city, most of his people had disposable income as well as an insane devotion to youth sports year round and that they just don’t come every week. They just have other options on the Lord’s Day. I asked if it bothered him. His reply was classic. He said, “It used to bother me, but it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else around here so I guess now it doesn’t bother me.”
I grew up Roman Catholic. I was the oldest of ten children, we attended catholic schools and my two cousins were nuns. Roman Catholics have a devotion to worship that shames evangelicals. They actually believe the New Testament: It is a sin to forsake worship since we are told not to do it (Heb 10:25). Attendance in worship was not a negotiable item in my home. If I would have ever attempted to miss worship on the Lord’s Day, it would have only taken a look by my father. If I pushed after that I would hear about it. And he never missed worship: ever.
Now, weekly worship attendance in church does not make one a Christian. But those who are saved don’t forsake worship. It is the most basic of commands for the believer: We are to worship, we are to serve, and we are to grow in the knowledge of God. Nothing is more important to the believer on Sunday than worship. God could have asked us to gather six times a day every day for worship and he would have been worthy of such devotion. But his command is an easy one: We are exhorted to “hold fast our confession” (Heb 10:23) and “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24) and then in the next verse we are told what not to do: “not forsaking our own assembling together” (Heb 10:25).
Many years ago, I saw someone from our church in the grocery store. We chatted a bit and I said, “I’ll see you Sunday.” She replied, “Hmm, let me think. I’m pretty sure we don’t have anything going on. Yes, we may see you there.” I was stunned.
I have talked to many pastor friends and we are all dumbfounded regarding the stupor that has come upon the church in this one particular area. You often get that deer in the headlights look from them when the issue of gathering for worship in obedience to the New Testament is brought up. Another pastor friend of mine was told point blank: “I am not obligated to worship every week. I have liberty in that area.” Obviously they didn’t understand the basics of liberty which is that it pertains to grey areas and not clear teaching. We need to do a better job explaining the reason for regular worship, namely, the beauty of God. We should not have to be expected and exhorted to worship each week. It should be a delight.
Anyway, just some thoughts I have had lately on the subject…
I’m afraid you’re too legalistic for most Christians in today’s “have it my way” evangelical environment.
Your comments Dr. Fabricatore are so true, sadly. I have been thinking in terms of how hard it is to cultivate true spiritual fellowship with brethren when church attendance is low. From fellowship, it also is extremely hard for a church to cultivate true spiritual ministry in the community, especially in evangelism, when we aren’t in fellowship with each other (or worshipping or learning the Word together). So sad, and something I agree needs to be emphasized. For people in church, all this is even down to saying that your choices for vacations (even if you have the disposable income) and other activities will be impacted by a mindset of “I don’t want to miss a gathering of the church.”