We hear all the time that church attendance is down. It is. We could share the statistics, but we don’t need to. If you haven’t heard that, look around you. Church buildings, once central to communities, now stand empty or are used for other purposes. Restaurants, stores, and even more annoyingly, community and kids’ events are now regularly open/held on Sunday mornings without thought. But, why shouldn’t they be if attendance or business doesn’t decrease? And if you aren’t sure from observation alone, there are plenty of statistics out there to satisfy the most analytical of researcher. Home churches have increased in recent years, but even this increase doesn’t begin to make up for the decrease in overall church attendance. This certainly brings several questions such as “Why don’t people attend church?” or “Why have people left the church?”. . .but also. . . “What is the church?”
In our English language and contemporary society, the word “church” generally conjures up ideas of a building. Maybe a white building with a steeple and an organ. Maybe a cathedral, centuries-old with beautiful stained glass. Maybe a megachurch with full band, coffee shop, and million-dollar electronic equipment. Whatever the picture in our minds. . .it is generally far different from the meaning of the Biblical “church” and its references to the church family.
“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)
“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28)
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matthew 18:20)
“. . .let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
“These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer. . .” (Acts 1:14)
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship. . .All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)
In scripture, the Greek word “ecclesia” refers to the group of believers. . .and clearly the content of scripture indicates that it doesn’t matter where that group meets, but who that group is. We are God’s children united in one church, one body. We may “attend” a wedding or funeral, but we ARE the church. If we separate from the church, the body is injured. And if we think that church is something we “do” or somewhere we “go”, then we injure the body and minimize its potential. Our church family is our most important family and within it is the way we are called to seek the kingdom and spread the gospel. If we wonder why people don’t attend church, or don’t do more than show up for a “service” and leave, perhaps we need to look at ourselves and encourage one another to amp it up a bit with a few of these things. Actions can speak louder than words sometimes, and it doesn’t help anyone to simply bemoan the state of society and the lack of church attendance and tell someone they should “come to church”. Instead, let us share it by remembering those who led us and imitate, be on guard, be thankful, teach, admonish, forgive, share, stimulate, encourage, persevere, and prioritize. We love our church, and we love even more the hope of one day being in the kingdom in a perfect, Christ-led body together. That day is ever-approaching. Let us not give it up now.
–Brian and Jennifer Hall