Just ask most church goers across America how many times they attend church in a given month and the answer may shock you. Then again, it may not, as I am sure that most of you have noticed a changing cultural trend. I have had many such conversations over the past few years with people who consider their church attendance “regular” and are only attending 1-2 times a month. They site reasons that range from children’s sporting events to work but the reality is that we live in a world that has devalued church attendance in exchange for increasing busyness and activity. On top of this, with the advent of social media, people have tricked themselves into believing that they are connected in real relationships with others.
Is this all just a facade?
The Barna Group did a study this past year on the epidemic of loneliness in America. Here is what they found out:
“One of the greatest self-perception changes over the past decade is in how Americans see themselves in relation to others. For all the technological advances in the past decade, the desire for human connectedness remains. Ten years ago, slightly over one out of 10 Americans self-identified as lonely. Today, that number has doubled—a paradoxical reality in the full swing of the social media age.”
Barna Group, How The Last Decade Changed American Lives (Barna Article)
People have a desire to be connected to God and each other. This is a basic human need, that when not met, causes depression, anxiety, and a general low sense of well being. I’m not anti-social media but I think we need to be careful to avoid the allure that it meets our need for genuine community. I can’t help but wonder whether the lack of church attendance is creating a social, relational, and spiritual deficit for God’s people.
The Apostle Paul’s words may hold the key to stemming the tide of loneliness for Christians across this country.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:23-25 (ESV)
The reality is that participating in church is a gift. As a good friend of mine often says, “It’s a get to, not a got to.” This then begs the question, what gifts are we missing out on when we miss gathering as the church?
Biblical Preaching – Meeting together helps us to “hold fast” to our confession of Faith. We are able to hear the Word of God and have it shape our lives. This keeps our own biases in check and keeps scripture in it’s rightful place of authority. It convicts us of sin and assures us of forgiveness.
The Sacraments – God gives ordinary elements extraordinary power and significance through His Word. We experience the grace of God through tangible yet mysterious means when the Word is spoken over the waters of baptism. We participate in Christ’s death and resurrection, receive forgiveness, and are nourished in our faith when the Word is spoken over normal bread and wine, uniting believers together through communion.
The Mission – Gathering as the church helps spur us on towards “love and good works”. It functions like a mission generator in which it’s people are turbo charged with the Word and love of God. Because of this they can’t help but release it on the world around them.
Community – The world is hard. Life is broken. We need the support that we get from being together. Church provides a place of refuge where we speak encouragement to each other. Countless times in the new testament, God’s people are emboldened to build each other up through prayer, worship, spiritual gifts, the Word of God, and singing together. These are all things we miss out on when we skip church.
Just a note, no church is perfect. They are all full of sinners in need of God’s grace. Church will not always be a place where people treat each other as they should. People will not always speak words of encouragement. All this being said, it should be a place that provides grace, love, and forgiveness to the broken people in it’s midst. Church is a community of God’s people, centered on His Word, being fed and transformed by His grace to make an impact on the world around them with the power of the Gospel. Who wouldn’t want to participate in this?