Monday, February 11, 2008

President Bush and church attendance in US--How many times a week should we attend?

Today's USA Today contained an article that commented on church attendance among prominent evangelicals. See It found that only 60% of those that they put into this category actually regularly attended a local church. This includes President Bush, who apparently rarely attends church services on Sunday. (In contrast, Presidents Clinton and Carter regularly attended on Sunday.)
This might have come as a surprise to people. This revelation was surprising to me, considering that Bush has been so open about his faith. I remember being similarly surprised years ago when I found out that President Reagan, so supportive of evanglical causes, also rarely attended.

What does this revelation tell us? I thought about this story from many angles. One would be the insincerity angle, that talking about one's faith but then not worshipping regularly shows a lack of commitment. Another is the bemoaning of the "privitization" of the Christian faith, where people say "yes" to being "spiritual" and living a Christian life, but refusing to be a part of "organized religion." (I know what people mean "organized religion"--a lifeless, rote, faith--but I have always found the obvious alternative, "disorganized religion," a humorous concept.)

Certainly, I wish worship attendance were higher in the US. Weekly worship attendance is 19-23% and falling. I do not want to do anything to accelerate this fall. But here is the point that came to me. We place too much importance on "church attendance." Consider that when we define "faithful Christian," we define this only in terms of whether a person attends. And a really faithful Christian is a person who attends 3 times a week. This is the perception regardless of whether a person lives a moral life, gossips, is divisive, shares his or her faith, or a host of other spiritual indicators.

This is often true when we are looking at people who can serve in the church. I know people who attend only on Sunday morning. But they give 10% of their income, live great lives, attempt to instill Christian values in their family, and regularly share their faith. In fact, if I had to choose, I would take this kind of person over the person who attends 3 times a week and has a lot of biblical knowledge, but rarely reaches out. And yet, despite these people doing tremendous things and often having great leadership ability, their abilities are discounted because they don't fall into the "really faithful" category.

Consider this. If you really want to reach the world, where do you want your people? Out in the world, at soccer games, in neighbors' homes, at recitals, coaching kids, etc. If I were doing a church plant starting from scratch, would I hold 3 assemblies with myself? Of course not. I would be out with people, seeking to serve them and share Christ with them. The reason why church planting is so effective evangelistically is because time, energy, and resources are devoted to reaching lost people.

This is a challenge for older generations to understand. It is true that people sometimes create their own schedule headaches. But as a member of a younger generation, I can testify that younger families are desperately rushed and run ragged most of the time. Usually both parents work (if there are two parents), commutes are longer, grandparents live in another state, they can't trust their kids with anyone, they never have time to themselves, and it takes 10 minutes to get kids in and out of car seats.

In the future, churches will assembly less, and it will be more balanced. Life
groups will replace Sunday PM attendance. Wednesday night will be replaced with outreach and service and seminars. And these other meeting times will be flexible as to day of the week. This is already happening in younger congregations. Why? It is not because people aren't committed. It is because this makes for a more balanced church life. And very few have time to attend 3 worship and Bible class assemblies, and do weekly outreach and service and build up relations with people outside of the church. No one has this time, and so consequently, few people are reached.

In people's personal lives, the key is to help people see the soccer games, recitals, etc., as mission fields.

What do you think of President Bush's lack of church attendance? Would you rather have a president who attended but did not support Christian values as fully, or who did not attend much and more fully supported these values?


Alison said...

I see the change in church attendance as a reflection of the change in our US culture. As you indicated, people are busier, have crazier work/school schedules, etc. This is a drastic change from the past where most families had one person working outside the home (usually the 8-5 M-F standard), and extracurricular activites were designed not to conflict with church events. This has been a major change, and the church is gradually adapting its flexibility to reflect the current culture. I have one main concern with this change, and that is how it is reflected to the next generation. I grew up going to church 3 days a week, and any other time the doors were open (including youth activites). As a young adult, I now realize that stringent schedule is not necessarily Biblical, and don't worry about adhering to it all the time. But, I also have a strong foundation that has taught me how important it is to meet with the believers as much as I can. My concern comes when I see the "next generation" being shown by their family's choices that school/extra-curricular activites are more important than church attendance and/or activities. Being involved with outside activites is not wrong,as I was involved in many myself. I do wonder how often parents are reinforcing to their children the spiritual committment involved with being in the family of believers and the works it does to further the name of Christ, and how that harmonizes with the outside activities. I see so many college kids and young adults who drift away when they get out on their own because they don't have the foundation to best prioritize their lives. I hope that as a church, we can do better with our kids in the future.

James said...

Hi Alison. I hear and share your concern. I grew up in the same kind of home (3 times a week+). And people staying home and vegging in front of the TV rather than doing something assembly related or outreach related is not what ought to be looking to do.

When Gina, our 6 year old, found out that we had life (connection) groups at High Pointe each week, rather than once a month as we do here, she said, "Huh?" In her little world, this was a big change. On Sunday night, she is used to "going to church."

We need to teach our children today just as passionately about "going to church." However, we need to teach them that we "go to church" by serving with the church and reaching out with the church in neighborhoods and homes as well as a building.

I would be fine in still asking most people to "go to church" three times a week, but with a balanced diet made up of 1 worship, 1 Bible study, and 1 outreach/service. The latter two could be done in large classes, small groups, or groups of 3-4 people. They could be on different days and times of the week.

Accountability and loving encouragement on this is key. These expectations are set by ministers, elders, the word of God, and one another as we "encourage one another daily." I really think that this loving encouragement and accountability comes best in those discipleship groups of 3-4 people, which also gives people some close friends (something many Christians are missing).

Then we need to train our children to be looking for opportunities to serve others and share their faith in their activities. Ask them about this. Offer suggestions. Find ways to connect their circle of friends and their parents with the church.

People will live up to or down to the expectations that we set for them. We need to keep expectations high, as you suggest, and increase our flexibility.

eally said...

Hi, I found your blog through another friend's blog and I've enjoyed reading through your posts. I just thought I would leave you a comment on this post though...this has been something I've really been wrestling with for the last year personally -- trying to NOT feel guilty for NOT attending church everytime the doors are open. Because I went on my first overseas mission trip last year and it completely changed my life. I am now reaching out to those around me more who are unsaved and unchurched and building relationships with them. I meet with them weekly for lunch, playdates with our homeschoolers, etc and all of that takes time and energy. When it comes to Sunday morning there's no question about church attendance - we are there! But the Sunday night and Wed night attendance...I'm TIRED and I find myself wanting a time to rest. I run the Women's Ministry as well and there's always outreach and planning with that. My 11-yr-old has to drag us to church those other two services because he LOVES going and he doesn't understand "mom's tired." LOL I think about all the things God is using me for and doing through me away from the church building but to some people it may seem like I'm just slacking these days. :-(

mitzi said...

I am struggling with this issue. I attend a small church with mainly elderly people who are retired. My husband & I work nights. We tithe and live those people & of course God. We miss because we're tired or working or out of town and they really not only put the pressure on us but become downright hostile because we're not at every service.

Ideally, I'd like to attend two or three times a month! My ministry is in the world. I write, witness to clients, living out what I think is what Christ expects of me. I began to understand that these people really believe church attendance is a direct fulfillment of the life of Christ and for them it may be. Where else is a poor sinner to go if the fellowship faithful aren't there? I don't have a problem with their expression of their spirituality, I just wish they would understand mine. I want to stay with them, but they won't accept me because I'm not there everytime the doors are open.

I spent a lot if time trying to explain it to them & show them what I'm doing , but I think they're resentful towards me because of it. Please reply to me & give me some counsel on how to handle my situation. Forgive typos, written on phone.