By Rick Chromey
I enjoy conversations about church attendance.
I like to chat with people about why they go, what they prefer, and what they would change. The answers rarely surprise me, but some trends are interesting.
For example, I’m finding a growing number of former regular church attenders who now prefer to stay home. Most of these irregulars remain active in their faith through small groups, recovery ministries, church socials/events, Christian concerts, and religious radio and television. Surprisingly, their affection and devotion to Jesus remains strong.
But they’re attending church only once or twice a month. The question is why?
As one former-churched Gen X friend confessed, “I found myself attending mostly out of guilt, shame, or duty.” He’d been a deeply involved, high-profile leader, but needed a break so now only attends church to connect with someone, celebrate a baptism, or enjoy the “live” worship experience.
He’s found no other spiritual reason to go.
But there are other reasons to stay away:
He can stream the service at home.
He doesn’t need to shower, shave, dress up, and drive to church. He can also enjoy spiritual activities like prayer, Scripture reading, and journaling, then watch the online service. He already gives online, receives news online, registers for events online, views biblical teaching online, and interacts on his church’s Facebook page. “I feel ‘connection’ to my church,” he says, “I just don’t need to go to church to get it.”
Spiritual “community” is absent.
He attends a church of 2,000 people. “It’s a great church and I have friends who go, but it’s hit or miss if I see them,” he says. He feels his “church” experience isn’t community-driven as much as performance-driven. “We attend the ‘show,’ view the back of someone’s head, and go home,” he admits. “You don’t go to church to make friends…not anymore.”
Pastoral friendship changed.
“If I seek to physically connect with anyone at all, it’s with my preacher,” my friend confides. He’s known him for decades. He served on his board, attended his small group, and spent time in his home, but as the church grew bigger, a distance emerged. “I sometimes feel the only reason I go to church is to ‘check in,’ ” he says. He understands his pastor’s duties have changed. He’s pastoring a huge church and my friend’s now a lower priority. “Sunday is the only time we shake hands and say hello,” he says sadly.
But the primary reason my friend stays away?
Nobody seems to care.
My friend isn’t missed by his church.
He’s still got his small group and other Christian friends, but his church hasn’t called, sent a letter/email, or personally checked on him. Not one person from the church, including the preacher, has reached out to wonder why he’s been missing.
That reality is also sad, he says. Church used to be about connection. We used to care more about the prodigals, marginalized, hurting, and absent.
My friend admits, again, that he enjoys going to church and says it’s better than staying home. But that “better” isn’t always enough to get him out of bed to physically attend church. “There has to be something more to get me to do that,” he admits.
In general, my friend feels disconnected and forgotten. He feels the church experience is sometimes a waste of time and energy. But most of all, my friend feels guilt and shame for admitting those feelings.
“Maybe I’ll attend church this weekend,” my friend says, “maybe they do miss me.”
I sure hope so. He’s a good guy.