Posts Tagged 'Church attendance'

Video Sermon: I’m Glad You Asked, Part 8

Actually, on today’s video sermon, I want to ask YOU a question: Why Don’t Christians Go to Church?  I guess pastors and church leaders have wondered about this weird phenomenon, so if you’re courageous enough, have a LISTEN.

Yes, You Have To!

Yes, you have to

You’ve probably heard, and maybe even said, something that goes like this: Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonalds makes you a Big Mac. That’s true, as far as it goes. Faithfully attending church doesn’t save anybody. We are saved by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. We are not saved by performing acts of good work or penance. We stand justified before God through the saving grace of Christ. That being the case, no true believer will lose his salvation by skipping church.

It was hard for me to type that last sentence. As a pastor who has been in the ministry for many years, the habitual church-skipper has become the absolute bane of my existence. You probably know people like this. They join your church, attend services faithfully for a few months, then they start skipping services. A Sunday spent away on vacation. The grandkids have strep. A birthday. These people always have a good reason for skipping church. You run into them at Wal-Mart and the first thing that comes out of their mouth is, “I know we’ve missed a lot of church, but we’ve been busy. We’ll see you this Sunday, though!” Right. If I had a dollar for every time a lazy church member spoke those words to me, I’d be a rich man today; my wife and I would be engaged in some “beach ministry” somewhere in the Caribbean. The fact is, words are cheap and so are habitual church skippers. They’re cheap with the blessings God has given them. They are stingy with yielding themselves to the Holy Spirit. And they hoard the gifts of the Spirit they possess.

Still, you have to love these people. You can’t kill them. So, what do you do with the lazy, habitual church skipper? Let’s lay some groundwork, first.

Christians are supposed to be in church.

While going to church doesn’t save you, the Bible is very clear that the Christian life is meant to be lived within the context of a local church.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms… (Ephesians 3:10 NIV)

We know that Paul here is referring to the local church because he’s writing to a local church, extolling the virtues of God’s wisdom as manifested by and through the local church for all the world to see. That’s a very big reason to regularly attend church – to be a part of God’s plan for showing the lost world His wisdom. When you habitually skip church, you are hindering God’s plan. Among other reasons, that’s why the Christian life (as designed by God) was never meant to be lived in isolation, away from the Body of Christ. Our very fellowship together with other believers is meant to be a stark testimony to a lost world.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23 – 25 NIV)

Here are some more good reasons to regularly attend services. The writer to the Hebrews links it to “the hope we profess.” In other words, part of being Christian is being a part of His Body, in the context of the local church. In addition, attending services gives us a chance to encourage fellow members in their walk with Christ and vice versa.

The writer to the Hebrews hints at something else in these verses: it is tempting to “give up meeting together.” Every pastor knows this to be true, and honest church members also know how easy it is to find reasons to miss church. It’s always tempting to lay out of church, hence the strong admonition to the Hebrew Christians.

A matter of priorities

Since attending church services is God’s will for His people, when we choose put the activities of the world ahead of church, we are saying to God, “I don’t have time for you.” That’s not a good position to be in! Can you imagine saying to God that you had “better things to do” on Sundays than fellowship with Him and other believers in His House? The title of this article is “Yes, You Have To Go To Church”, but it should probably be, “Do I Have to Put God First?”  Laying out of church so you can “spend time with your family,” by the way, is not putting God first and counts for nothing.  Atheists spend time with their families.  Walking in the woods, appreciating creation may be a wonderful way to lower your blood pressure, but it’s not putting God first, at least when you ought to be in church.

Even Christians who rarely skip church can fall into the dreaded “one hour only” mentality. Think about it. Do you complain about church running past noon? Most of us do, yet most of us never complain about services being too short. It’s about priorities. Are the things of your life more important than God? Regular church attenders would do well to think about this. If you’re in a rush to get out of church so you can “get on with your Sunday,” you’re insulting God. Let’s check our attitude about church often.

It all comes down to priorities. Do you, if you call yourself a Christian, put God first in your life or not? Part of putting Him first is living in obedience to what He wants for your life, and one thing He wants is for Christians – for you – to attend church services regularly. Of course, there are many other important things going on in your life, but it’s when you habitually put those things ahead of God, you find yourself on the outs with Him.

Christians are made to worship corporately – together. It is certainly true that you can worship God any time, anywhere. You don’t have to be in church to worship God. Nowhere in the Bible will find a verse that says believers in God should wait until they are in church to worship God. The Bible assumes believers will live a life of worship. Worship is a lot more than singing hymns and choruses, or taking Communion. And yet, that same Bible admonishes Christians to do these things:

Meet together on the first day of the week.

No kidding! It’s in there.

On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. (Acts 20:7 NIV)

Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2 NIV)

The Lord wants His people to get into the habit of meeting together regularly.

We can’t do what we’re supposed to do unless we meet together

You really can’t be all that God wants you to be unless you are in regular fellowship with other believers in the local church. You may be living a good life, enjoying peace and prosperity, but you’ll never know the full blessing of God until you are in church.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18 – 20 NIV)

Those are things Christians are supposed to be doing for each other in church. There’s no getting away from the fact that God intends for His people to live out their Christian lives in the church. Of course, you should live like a Christian all the time, everywhere you go, but doing the things Paul admonished his Ephesian friends to do can only be done in church!

On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. (1 Corinthians 16:2 NIV)

Offerings can’t be taken up except in church. The offering Paul referred to here was one to meet the needs of another church. Christians looking after other Christians can best take place within a local church. It is there the needs of the Body of Christ are meant to be met.

You can’t follow the example of the early Christians except in church

There’s a lot of talk about “getting back” to the way the church used to be. It seems as though a lot Christians have grown disenchanted with the way the modern church has become. Well, if you want to “get back” to the New Testament church, you had better get used to meeting at least once a week at a central location. Of course, there were “house churches” in the early days, but there were also large congregations that met at a regular location. They had a structure and they were organized  (1 Corinthians 11 and 14).

If you read those two chapters (there are many others like them, by the way) you’ll see why it’s imperative to be in church. You can watch a church service on TV, you can read your Bibles with your husband or wife, and neighbors, but you can’t do what the Lord wants you to do; you can’t follow the example of the early church unless you are in an organized, structured church.

You can only encourage and uplift the saints in church

We’ve already looked at Hebrews 10:23 – 25, but there are other verses that talk about the importance of gathering together, not only to worship God, but also to encourage and uplift other believers. Naturally we can do this any time we happen to run into a fellow believer at the grocery store or at a ball game, but it best takes place in the local church.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:15, 16 NIV)

All those things are to take place in the local church. Just a quick reading of Colossians 3 shows the context. When we habitually miss church services, we are quite literally robbing other believers of our encouragement. Not only that, we run the risk of becoming a stumbling block to other Christians when we skip out of church all the time.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (Romans 14:13 NIV)

How does skipping church make you a stumbling block? Among other reasons it’s encouraging the already habitual  skippers to keep on skipping services; it’s setting a terrible example for them to follow.

Respecting God’s authority

Here’s one last thing to think about. When you habitually skip church, you are rejecting God-ordained leadership authority. Churches are led by elders, men (and sometimes women) who, being led by God themselves, decide the days and times of church services. When you choose to disregard the authoritative decisions made by these men of God, you are essentially disregarding the authority of God Himself. It’s no small thing to play fast and lose with your church. The odds are good that if you have this kind of attitude toward the church you have the same attitude toward God.

And now, a word to you elders of the church. I, too, am an elder; with my own eyes I saw Christ dying on the cross; and I, too, will share his glory and his honor when he returns. Fellow elders, this is my plea to you: Feed the flock of God; care for it willingly, not grudgingly; not for what you will get out of it but because you are eager to serve the Lord.

Don’t be tyrants, but lead them by your good example, and when the Head Shepherd comes, your reward will be a never-ending share in his glory and honor.

You younger men, follow the leadership of those who are older. And all of you serve each other with humble spirits, for God gives special blessings to those who are humble, but sets himself against those who are proud. (1 Peter 5:1 – 5 TLB)

Is the question, “Do I have to go to church?” Maybe it should be, “Is it permissible to disregard the authority of God and His leaders?”

A word about churches

Maybe you live in a community like the one I live in. There is a church every ten feet here it seems. Everywhere you look there’s another red door. When I talk about being faithful in church attendance, I am assuming you are attending a healthy, well-balanced church that is preaching the Word of God and respects the teachings and traditions of historical, orthodox Christianity. There are all kinds of groups that get together, sometimes calling themselves a “church,” yet have no relationship with the vital essentials of Christianity. Those “vital essentials” include things like: honoring the final authority of Scripture, belief in the great doctrines of the Bible, like the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the substitutionary, atoning death of Christ, His resurrection, salvation by grace, living a life of holiness, and so on. A real church is faithful in administering the ordinances of the church – Communion and water baptism.

But a true church not only worships God together, they fellowship with each other.  They sometimes discipline each other.  They encourage each other and build each other up. Members of a true church are being equipped to reach out to the lost, offering them eternal life in Christ.

Ultimately, the real question should never be, “Do I have to go to church?” Rather, Christians should want to be in church because they have the right heart before God. No, the real question should be, “Why do you choose not to be in church every time the doors are open?”

Missing Christians are NO Christians


Here is an article written by Jim Elliff, which I acquired from Steve Camp’s blog, Camp on This.  Although written about Southern Baptists, it could easily have been written about any denomination.   After decrying the disparity between the number of people on a church’s membership roll and the number of members who actually attend that church’s Sunday service, Elliff makes the following excellent observations:

What do these facts and figures, as general as they are, suggest?

First, they reveal that most of the people on our rolls give little evidence that they love the brethren—a clear sign of being unregenerate (1 Jn. 3:14). It is impossible to believe that anything like real familial affection exists in the hearts of people who do not come at all, or who only nominally check in on Sunday morning as a cultural exercise. Love is the greatest mark of a genuine believer (1 Jn.3:14-19). Attendance alone does not guarantee that anyone is an authentic believer, but “forsaking the assembling,” is a serious sign of the unregenerate heart. The phrase: “They went out from us, because they were never of us” (1 Jn. 2:19) may have doctrinal overtones, but it nonetheless represents many on our membership rolls.

Second, these numbers suggest that most of those who do not attend (or who only come when it is convenient), are more interested in themselves than God. To put it in Paul’s words, they are “fleshly-minded” and not “spiritually-minded” (Rom. 8: 5-9). The atmosphere that most pleases them is that of the world and not God. They can stand as much of God as makes them feel better about themselves, and they find a certain carnal security in “belonging” to a local church. But beyond that, they will politely resist getting involved. They use the church, but are not really a part of it. For some, the extent of what they can take is an Easter service now and then; for others it is an occasional sterile (and somewhat Pharisaical) trip to church on appropriate Sunday mornings as fits into their schedule. But their apathy towards regular and faithful church attendance betrays their true affections. The fact is, you do what you love to do.

Third, the numbers indicate that some people have joined other denominations and our churches have not kept up with their movements—a sign of inadequate pastoral oversight and the built-in deficiencies of the “inactive membership” concept. I’m quite certain Paul never dreamed of “inactive membership.” Embarrassingly, some left on the rolls are dead—physically! It goes without saying that a dead person is about as inactive as one could be! But others, though presumably alive physically, have disappeared without a trace. I believe it was our beloved Dr. Roy Fish of SWBTS who said, “Even the FBI could not find some of them.” Yet, if we want to claim them as members, we are responsible to keep up with them.

All of these people have “prayed the prayer” and “walked the aisle.” All have been told that they are Christians. But for most, old things have not really passed away, and new things have not come. Most are not new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). In too many cases, obvious signs of an unregenerate heart can be found, such as bitterness, long-term adultery, fornication, greed, divisiveness, covetousness, etc. These are “professing believers” that the Bible says are deceived. “Do not be deceived” the Bible warns us concerning such people (see 1 Cor.6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; 6: 7-8; Eph. 5:5-6; Titus 1:16; 1 Jn. 3:4-10; etc.).

Jesus indicated that there is a good soil that is receptive to the gospel seed so as to produce a fruit-bearing plant, but that the “rocky ground” believer only appears to be saved. The latter shows immediate joy, but soon withers away (Mt. 13:6, 21). This temporary kind of faith (which is not saving faith, see 1 Cor.15:1-2) is rampant among Southern Baptists. In The Baptist Faith and Message we say we believe that saving faith is persistent to the end. We say we believe in the preservation and perseverance of the saints (once saved, always persevering). In other words, if a person’s faith does not persevere, then what he possessed was something other than saving faith.

In John 2:23-25 Jesus was the center-piece for what turned out to be a mass evangelism experience in which a large number of people “believed” in Him. Yet He did not entrust Himself to even one of them because “he knew their hearts.” Is it possible that we have taken in millions of such “unrepenting believers” whose hearts have not been changed? I say that we have. Our denomination, as much as we may love it, is on the main, unregenerate. Even if you double, triple, or quadruple my assessment of how many are true believers, we still have a gigantic problem. It is naive to believe otherwise.

There are those who would say that such people are “carnal Christians” and don’t deserve to be thought of as unregenerate. It is true that the Corinthian believers (about whom this phrase was used; see 1 Cor. 3:1-3) acted “like mere men” in their party spirit. Christians can commit any sin short of that which is unpardonable.

Undoubtedly, however, Paul did suspect that some of the Corinthians were unbelievers, for he later warns them about such a possibility in 2 Cor.12:20-13:5. A long-term and unrepentant state of carnality, is, after all, the very description of the unregenerate (Rom. 8:5-14, 1 Jn. 3:4-10, etc.). In calling some people “carnal” Paul did not mean to imply that he was accepting as Christian a lifestyle that he clearly describes elsewhere as unbelieving. He wrote, in the same letter: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. Do not be deceived” (1 Cor. 6:9-11, etc.). Apparently there were some, even then, who were deceived into thinking that an unrighteous man or woman who professes faith in Christ could really be a Christian!

What must be done? I suggest five responses:

1. We must preach and teach on the subject of the unregenerate church member. Every author in the New Testament writes of the nature of deception. Some books give major consideration to the subject. Jesus Himself spoke profusely about true and false conversion, giving significant attention to the fruit found in true believers (Jn. 10:26-27; Mt. 7:21-23; Mt. 25:1-13, etc.). If this sort of teaching creates doubt in people, you should not be alarmed, nor should you back away from it. Given the unregenerate state of so many professing Christians, their doubts may be fully warranted. In any case, as one friend told me, “Doubts never sent anyone to hell, but deception always does.” Most will work through their doubts, if they are regenerate and if we continue to preach the whole truth. Contrary to popular opinion, all doubts are not of the devil. Speak truthfully the whole counsel of God. You cannot “unsave” true believers.

It is true that there may be some who are overly scrupulous and overwhelmed by such examination. But most who will be affected are those who are too self-confident, having based their assurance on such shaky platforms as their response to an invitation, praying a perfectly worded “sinner’s prayer,” or getting baptized. If they are unregenerate, they may take offense and leave. But if they are truly regenerate, patient teaching and care will help them to overcome their doubts and gain biblical assurance. Such preaching may even result in true conversion for some who are deceived. And don’t forget that the overconfident ones are not the only ones at risk. Quiet, sensitive, insecure people can be deceived also.

2. We must address the issue of persistent sin among our members, including their sinful failure to attend the stated meetings of the church. This must be done by reestablishing the forgotten practice of church discipline. Each church should adopt guidelines that state just what will happen when a member falls into sin, including the sin of non-attendance or very nominal attendance. Such discipline for non-attendance is clearly found in the history of Baptists—but more importantly, in the Bible.

Everyone in the church, including new members, should be made familiar with the biblical steps of church discipline. Jesus said that a person who was lovingly, but firmly, disciplined by the church, and yet failed to repent, should be thought of as “a heathen and a tax collector” (see Mt. 18:15-17). Though David committed atrocious sins, he was a repenter at heart (see 2 Sam.12:13; Psalm 51). Every Christian is a life-long repenter and church discipline brings this out. (See “Restoring Those Who Fall,” in Our Church on Solid Ground: Documents That Preserve the Integrity and Unity of the Church,

Leaders must get into the homes of all our erring church members, seeking either to bring them to Christ, or to reluctantly release them to the world which they love more than Christ. Nowhere in the Bible are we taught to keep non-believers on the rolls. As a side benefit from church discipline for the SBC, remember that when we reduce our membership to what it actually is, we will be amazed at the statistical improvements in the ratio of members per baptism and members to attenders. Of course, statistics are not worth dying for, but obedience to God’s Word is.

We are never to aggressively pluck the supposed tares from the wheat as if we had absolute knowledge (Mt. 13:24-30; 36-43). We might be mistaken. However, loving church discipline is a careful process by which the obvious sinner in essence removes himself by his resistance to correction. The church is made up of repenting saints, not rebelling sinners (see 1 Cor. 5). The slight improvement in the disparity between membership and attendance in the last couple of years is likely due, in major part, to some churches beginning to practice church discipline—a matter of obedience that thankfully is regaining credence among us. Some have removed hundreds from their rolls in this process, and regained some also.

3. We should be more careful on the front end of church membership. In my estimation, the public altar call (a modern invention) often reaps people prematurely. Others will disagree or can perhaps make significant improvements on the traditional “invitation system.” We have used this method in our evangelism because of our genuine zeal to see the lost converted. But in our zeal, we have often overlooked the fact that many who do what our method calls for (i.e. respond to our invitation) may not be converted.

Though sacrosanct to Baptists, careful study should be done related to the historical use of the invitation system evangelistically. For eighteen hundred years the church did not use such a method. It was not until its principle originator, Charles Finney, a true pelagian in his theology, promoted his “new measures.” Earlier preachers were content to let true conviction play a greater part in conversion. They needed no props for the gospel—no persuasive techniques to prompt people to make a “decision.” Instead of relying on a method, their confidence was in the preached Word and the Holy Spirit. Baptist giant, C. H. Spurgeon, for instance, saw thousands converted without the use of an “altar call.” His message was his invitation. We should always offer a verbal invitation in our gospel preaching, meaning we must invite people to repent and believe. But there is no real benefit, while there is much potential harm, in our inviting them to the front of the church and then assuring them that their short walk or tearful response proves their conversion.

We don’t need better methods to get people down to the front. What we need is more biblical content and more unction in our preaching. You cannot beat sinners away from Christ when God is bringing them in (see Jn. 6:37, 44-45). When as many as 70-90% of “converts” are giving little, if any, evidence of being saved after their first weeks or months of emotional excitement, questions should be asked, both about our understanding of the gospel and about our methods. Forget the fact, if you must, that there is no clear biblical precedent for the altar call. Even considering the matter pragmatically ought to make us quit. Though prevalent in our churches for decades, it has not helped us. (See “Closing with Christ,”

The dangerous practice of receiving new members immediately after they walk the aisle must finally be abandoned. Also, more careful counsel should be taken with those entering in as members from other churches. And add to this a need for much deeper thinking concerning childhood conversion. An alarming percentage of childhood professions wash out later in the teen and college years. For unconverted yet baptized church kids, the more independence they are granted, the more they live out their true nature. (See “Childhood Conversion,”

4. We must stop giving immediate verbal assurance to people who make professions of faith or who respond to our invitations. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to give assurance. We are to give thebasis upon which assurance can be had, not the assurance itself. Study 1 John in this respect. What things were written so that they might know they have eternal life? (1 Jn. 5:13). Answer: The tests given in the book. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16).

5. We must restore sound doctrine. Revival, I am finding as I study its history, is largely about the recovery of the true gospel. The three great doctrines which have so often shown up in true revival are: 1) God’s sovereignty in salvation, 2) justification by grace through faith alone, and 3) regeneration with discernible fruit. Revival is God showing up, but the blessing of the presence of God is directly affected by our beliefs. God most often comes in the context of these and other great doctrines, preached penetratingly and faithfully, and with the unction of the Holy Spirit.

As an illustration of our doctrinal reductionism, repentance is often forgotten completely in gospel presentations, or else it is minimized to mean nothing more than “admitting that you are a sinner.” Also, “Inviting Christ into your heart,” a phrase never found in the Bible (study the context of Jn.1:12 and Rev. 3:20, the verses used for this), has taken the place of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. The doctrine of God’s judgment is rarely preached with any carefulness. And comprehensive studies of the meaning of the cross are seldom heard. Merely looking over the titles of the sermons which awakening preachers preached in the past would surprise most modern pastors.

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