I’m getting tired of hearing pastors complain that people put soccer practices, family gatherings, and vacations above church. Yes, it’s easy to fall into this complaint. I also do so as I look around the sanctuary on a given Sunday and count up who is missing. My mind automatically starts to think about ways to get them back. But then I stop. I realize that I too have fallen into the practice of equating church with what happens on Sunday mornings. With so many people opting for other activities, I wonder if people are not only being influenced by the larger culture, but also sensing that the church does not know or care about the world outside its doors.
At many churches there is an overwhelming sense that one must be present on Sundays and other events to be an active member and grow as a Christian: keeping the Sabbath means going to church. Now, it’s not a bad thing to be in Bible studies or worship God corporately, don’t get me wrong. The Bible encourages us to draw together and praise God, “not neglecting to meet together” (Hebrews 10:25) and Sunday morning activities are one way to do so. Yet, in the church model that focuses on Sunday morning attendance, only once people enter our doors and become involved in our programs do we have the opportunity for influence. We can rest on attendance numbers for proof that people are growing closer to Christ. But are they really? Are programs really the best way to shape people as Christ followers? Because so much effort has been exerted in developing services and other programs that will attract people, we’ve forgotten something much more important, but more difficult: relationships.
What if we look at church more as the body of Christ – which it is – and not merely as a body that comes together primarily to keep an institution going? Yes, some members of the body will serve the church as Sunday School teachers, administrators, and trustees. But what if being a mother, a janitor, a barista, or a teacher were also regularly promoted as ways of attending church? In this way, we are attending to church when we are attendant to Christ’s mission in our lives. This may be during a weekly worship service, but it also can take place where ever we are at a given moment. As we talk to the cashier at the corner grocer, take a pie to our next door neighbor, attend our child’s soccer game, or skip choir practice in order to attend a friend’s concert.
With this perspective, I don’t feel the need to coerce or convince people to be present at a weekly service. We can walk together throughout the week learning how God is at work in our lives and how we are in mission in our places throughout the world. Then, as we become more fully enmeshed in His story, we are drawn to gather with others in more formal worship, allowing God to fill us so that we can return to the world as church throughout the week. It’s a living, breathing church in mission everywhere, not merely within four walls one hour a week.
How are you attending to church this week?