November 2017

Why fewer people attend church


In September, we were privileged to host a URC Area Partnership meeting where the co-moderator of General Assembly was the speaker. Among much thought provoking input, Alan Yates pointed out that all traditional denominations lose about 3% of the membership every year. That’s 40% each decade, and that this has been happening for many decades. The trend is practically universal: fewer people are attending church every year.

There are many reasons why this is happening, but I think it’s increasingly evident that it no longer makes sense to attend church.
There seems to be no point in merely attending. You drive or walk to connect with 5 songs or hymns, hear the message, hopefully have a quiet prayer, chat to a few people over a cup of tea and then head home. All of that you could almost do by yourself in a much more convenient way. An online or on TV service, then a chat on the phone with a friend and you’re covered.

The era of attending church is dying. Think about it. Generations ago, the church was a social and cultural hub as well as a missional hub. In addition to faith reasons, people loved going to church because it was one of a handful of options available in a community as well as the main way (other than personal devotions) you connected with God.

We now live in a culture that’s drowning in options and has 24/7 access to anything and everything and frankly church attendance struggles in this marketplace. However, before you think I’m about to throw in the towel and watch the daily service or Andrew Marr in my pyjamas on Sunday mornings, there is a compelling reason to go to church.
The main reason we gather with the church is because we are the church. You don’t attend church. You are the church.

Merely attending church doesn’t make much of an impact because just sitting and consuming church doesn’t make you very good at being the church.
I think being the church has something to do with living your life for Christ, demonstrating God’s love by serving others and sharing your faith with people. That’s very different from consuming church in a back row, which you can just as easily do in your back garden.
The reason you would go to church today is that you’ve moved from being a consumer to being a contributor. You don’t just go to be served, you go to serve. There’s something deeply scriptural about that.

And before you think that you can do whatever you need to do as a Christian in the world without other Christians or without the church, gathering together was Jesus’ idea, not ours. Jesus knew that being church is more important than just attending, and also that without gathering together we couldn’t really fulfil our calling as disciples. Remember you are the church. And the church is at its best when we engage in the mission God has given us.

You don’t attend church. You are the church.
The future will be built on Christians who want to serve, share and engage the mission of the local church, not people who just want to attend and consume church.

So what are you? An attender or are you the church?


November 2017