“To gather with God’s people in united adoration of the Father is as necessary to the Christian life as prayer.” ― Martin Luther
According to that infallible morass of information (the all-knowing Google), 83% of Americans call themselves Christians. Yet only 20.4% of Americans attend church each week.
The reasons people stay home are varied: ill health, lack of sleep, discontentment with local churches, scheduling conflicts, kids, etc…
But with the possible exception of the first reason, those reasons are pretty weak excuses.
1) Ill Health
There are two broad kinds of ill health: short-term sickness and long-term disease. The first kind really can keep you out of church occasionally for the sake of not infecting others. Unfortunately, we all too often use a wee little sniffle as an excuse to skip church. Many times we delude ourselves into thinking we are “coming down with something” when really we just stayed up too late the night before. The second kind of ill health is more tricky. For some people, regularly attending church is out of the question. I get that. But I also know quite a few people who suffer from debilitating conditions who amaze me with their steely determination to attend church.
2) Lack of Sleep
We have a rule at my house: no matter how late you stay up on Saturday, you still have to go to church on Sunday morning. So far, neither I nor my parents have overslept and missed church. Quite often I have regretted how late I stayed out the night before, but sleeping through church has never been an option.
“A little thing will keep them from the house of God who have no desire to go to it.” – James H. Aughey
If the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, invest in an alarm clock and find some way to keep yourself accountable in your church attendance. (More on that at the end.)
3) Discontentment with Local Churches
“Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that “suits” him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
This discontentment can be from so many varied reasons. It can range from the pews are too hard to the preacher likes Dabney, Keller, Lucado, or Spurgeon and you just don’t. Whatever the reasons, they are rarely legitimate. Are they preaching the gospel? Observing the sacraments?
“Wherever we find the Word of God surely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there, it is not to be doubted, is a church of God.” – John Calvin
It might not be your dream church. The people there might not be cool, the music might not be your style, there might not be a children’s or youth program, they might not have a variety of small-groups you can join, but you know what? There isn’t a church out there that is going to perfectly fulfill all your preferences. Churches are made up of flawed Christians, and if there ever was a perfect church, it would lose that status the moment you or I walked through the door.
4) Scheduling Conflicts
Vacations, birthday celebrations, athletic events, and so much more.
Vacations can be a tough one, since there isn’t always a local church you can attend depending on where you go. My parents did their best to find a church on Sundays during vacation, and one of my favorite memories is of the time we joined a small congregation in Montana for Sunday morning worship. We were vacationing with some friends; our family plus our friends about doubled the attendance at that church! I am so glad, however, that we went. I don’t remember what the sermon was about, but I do remember my 16-year-old self being overwhelmed by the evidence of “the tie that binds.” I was among people I had never met before, yet had more in common with them than with some of my biological family!
Most other scheduling conflicts, however, are really just a problem of priorities. Where does church attendance rank? Sunday is called the Lord’s Day, do we treat it as such? Or do we treat it like an extra Saturday?
“If the devil cannot make us bad, he will make us busy.” -Corrie ten Boom
I know families with four, five, and 6+ kids who make it to church almost every single Sunday. They amaze me. I honestly do not know how they make it to church most Sundays with each child wearing clothes and most of them wearing shoes. But if they can do it, the rest of us can.
When I was little, I was an only child. Admittedly, getting ready for church was not as tremendous an effort for my parents. However, my parents commitment to going to church every Sunday made a huge impression on me – and I recognized the difference in attitude towards church that many of my friends had (friends whose parents had more lackadaisical approaches to church attendance). The values and habits they instilled in me as a child greatly benefit me as a young adult.
“On the most elementary level, you do not have to go to church to be a Christian. You do not have to go home to be married either. But in both cases if you do not, you will have a very poor relationship.” – R. Kent Hughes
Of course, the best answer to all these excuses for sparse church attendance should be a determination to do better and prioritize correctly. We know that we are commanded to “forsake not the gathering of believers” and that God claims the Sabbath (which we now celebrate on Sunday), but quite often we lack the motivation to commit to regularly attending for the sake of obedience alone. We humans are much more likely to do something for the sake of pride than the sake of obedience.
Herein lies a solution.
If we have no responsibilities at church and don’t show up, no one really cares. But if we are scheduled to teach a Sunday School class of 6-year-olds and don’t show up, we can bet we’ll hear from the Sunday School coordinator and probably the some of the parents of those children! If we are signed up to make the morning coffee, you can be sure our absence will be very noticeable. If we have volunteered as a greeter or nursery worker and are not there, someone is bound to ask us where we were.When the question is asked, most of us would cringe if we had to admit that we forgot, overslept, or just didn’t “feel like it.”
I can count on one hand the Sundays in the past 5 years in which I have not attended corporate worship in the morning. It isn’t because I am uber-pious or have no life – it’s because I have been teaching a Sunday School class.
My sense of duty is not always enough to prod me out of bed on a Sunday morning. My desire to be obedient in how I keep the Sabbath does not always win a schedule conflict. But my pride will generally make me do everything needed to save me from embarrassment.
Use your pride to your spiritual advantage. Not only will you reap the benefit of accountability through volunteering somehow at church, but you will also be fulfilling the command to good as you have opportunity “especially to them who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10)
“Church attendance is as vital to a disciple as a transfusion of rich, healthy blood to a sick man.” – Dwight L. Moody