THE DISTRESSING TREND AFFECTING CHURCHES TODAY
Church attendance is declining in US culture, and this tendency affects churches of every denomination. This decline is all the more distressing because the issue is not people dropping out of church but rather members attending less frequently. Thom Rainer explained:
The number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago. Allow me to explain. If the frequency of attendance changes, then attendance will respond accordingly. For example, if 200 members attend every week the average attendance is, obviously, 200. But if one-half of those members miss only one out of four weeks, the attendance drops to 175.(1)
This distressing trend impacts all facets of church negatively, but the true losers are the members who skip. What do these members lose?
1. They lose the joy of regular corporate worship. Paul insists that only when the saints gather together do they truly understand the love of Christ: “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be able to be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:17b-19, NKJV). Regular corporate worship nourishes the soul and strengthens the heart in the daily walk with God. We need corporate worship; such worship supplies a facet of knowing God that personal intimacy alone cannot provide.
2. They lose the accountability of brothers and sisters. The body provides accountability that prevents all of us from becoming “Lone Ranger” Christians. The New Testament records over 50 “one another” commands; these cannot be practiced in a vacuum. The book of Proverbs warns, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment” (Prov. 18:1). Brothers and sisters hold me accountable, pray for me in my weakness, bless me by their strengths, and find support from me as I exercise my gifts toward them and in the body. The absent church member does not know who’s hurting and cannot share either hurts or joys. The body loses.
3. They lose the regular diet of hearing the Word preached. Nothing discourages a pastor more than preparing and preaching a message from the Word anointed by the Spirit to empty pews. Adding insult to this injury, sometimes members who missed the service will come the very next week with a “problem” that the sermon they missed answered. God’s Word is the true antidote to discouragement, temptation, and fear (among a host of other battles). When believers forfeit their opportunity to hear the Word of God, they invite for themselves battles that they are ill-equipped to fight. Regular, private reading of the Word is critical for daily growth, but God exalts the preaching of the Word among the people of God as essential for spiritual health and growth (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
4. They teach their children what they value. The main reason children drop out of church is not the lack of apologetics or doctrinal training they receive; rather, children abandon church because their parents teach them—by their lives—that it’s not important. Ministry Best Practices lists reasons why kids abandon the faith, and offers this gem as reason 4: “Their parents are hypocrites and come across as ‘softly-committed-but-seemingly-good- church-folks’ for many years. The kids see that there is no real joy, no real integrity to their parents’ faith, so they either a) reject the church and never come to faith, or b) they ditch the church for a while and journey out to find a more authentic expression of their faith.”(2) Either parents neglect the house of God, or they invalidate during the week by their lives what they profess on Sunday; both of these failures train their children that Jesus is just not that important. Some parents even let their children decide if they will go to church. On no other subject do parents give their children a say in the habits of life—not school, not eating, not even brushing teeth—yet parents give to children the decision over church attendance. This action alone reinforces to children that parents don’t consider it in any way essential.
5. They lose the reward of regular service to others in the body. One of God’s promises to His people is the possibility of future reward; reward is based on using what you have for the glory of God. Every time the body assembles, opportunities exist for believers to use their gifts, talents, time, and finances to bless and help others. When believers attend one or two services in the month, they forsake those opportunities, robbing others of needed blessings and robbing themselves of future reward. Infrequent attenders lose the impact their presence, service, and encouragement offer to others in the body.
6. They lose the effectiveness of gifts exercised and resources employed in the kingdom. Churches are kingdom entities; every church is an outpost for the kingdom of God, displaying His glory and ministering in His name. When believers fail to attend, they diminish their kingdom impact; their witness to the lost may be neutralized, and their gifts and resources may be shelved. One of Jesus’ warnings comes to the servant who buries the talent entrusted to him rather than using it in the public forum. How many believers miss the privilege of investing in the lives of others for the King’s sake because they won’t make the time to be with God’s people regularly?
Declining attendance at its heart is a spiritual problem of kingdom priorities. This article is a plea to every believer to invest fully in the kingdom of God through his or her local church. In a day of busyness in lesser things and apathy over the main thing, God’s people ought to lead the way to set their priority and first love on God and His people—the local church where He has placed them to use their gifts, build up others, serve the body, and worship Him in spirit and in truth.
1 Thom Rainer, “The Number One Reason for the Decline in Church Attendance and Five Ways to Address It,” The Christian Post, August 23, 2013, https://www.christianpost.com/news/the- number-one-reason-for-the-decline-in-church-attendance-and-five-ways-to-address- it-102882/ (accessed October 25, 2017).
2 “Why Do Kids Leave the Church?” Ministry Best Practices, http://www.ministrybestpractices.com/2012/08/why-do-kids-leave-church.html (accessed October 25, 2017), emphasis in original.