With the declining attendance of people going to traditional Sunday morning church services, I wonder whether these will fade out completely in time. Many of those who do still go tend to be of an older age group. So few children are taught Christianity in schools these days and even fewer parents teach them about Jesus and God at home.
In Victorian times and before, church attendance was of the utmost importance but, over the past 50 years, and certainly since the influx of so many immigrants from different parts of the world into the UK, we are a much more mixed society with many people having their own religious faith and practices which are not necessarily Christian. Thanks Pavel for the photo Pexels.com
Many people these days are having to work longer hours to make economic ends meet; they have family commitments which leave them little or no spare time for going to church; they prefer to have a lie-in on a Sunday morning; there are many more Sunday morning activities for children to attend; they have no interest or belief in Christianity or any other faith. It’s hard for the church to compete against Netflix or Sky TV!
I do go to church regularly on a Sunday and mostly find the experience a joyful and uplifting one. By sharing our common thoughts and values, it reinforces our spiritual beliefs and teaches us how to lead a better life following Jesus’ example. Christianity gives us the hope of life after death and offers us a structure by which to live our lives in a good way. We can also feel part of a community where we help and support each other; undertake philanthropic work at home and abroad; make charitable donations to people less well off than ourselves and enjoy a social life together.
Graham – I know that a church is just a building and it’s the people inside that make it work but why do you think it’s important for people to attend? Jesus never insisted that people should go to the synagogues – in fact he was disparaging about the practices in some of them! The attendance at evangelical and gospel churches does seem to have bucked the trend and increased in number – I’m told that it’s not unusual to have over 200 people attending on a Sunday morning. Similarly, attendance at Roman Catholic churches is still relatively high compared with the Church of England churches. Do you have any ideas what could attract people back again or has that ship sailed now?
Rev Graham replies:
As you have indicated, Carol, there are a number of reasons why people attend or don’t attend church services. Being attached to a place of worship is important for any person who has a particular faith so that it is nurtured and strengthened. The church is not a building; it is a gathering of people from three to 200 and more who worship God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a variety of forms.
Do Not Give In Or Give Up!
Thanks Ingo for the photo Pexels.com
In Hebrews 10 we have an outline of God’s continual gift of forgiveness through the ministry of Jesus Christ and in that context we are encouraged not to forsake meeting together as some Christian believers have done. We should continue to meet so as to spur each other on in acts of service and the study of God’s word which will ensure spiritual growth and maturity.
For many it can be easy to fall into a habit of casually attending and associating to particular places of worship which may lack real conviction and a deeper experience of God’s presence and saving grace. This can be compared with a person regularly visiting a greenhouse with the hope that eventually they will become like one of their favourite vegetables that live within it. If we attend church or dwell in a greenhouse it is not automatic that we become a Christian or a vegetable!!
When you mentioned the concern you have, Carol, about the numbers who attend church, I feel that, in one way, it is irrelevant because the strength or weakness of a church is not dependent upon the numbers that attend. There could be over two hundred people attending a church service when in reality there may be only a few classed as true believers. The remainder may have at best a nominal faith while others are seekers of truth, agnostic or even without any faith and belief.
So the level of maintaining or losing one’s faith is not dependent on attending, or not attending, church. A seed of God’s spirit can germinate within a person’s heart and mind at any time which may lead them to become dedicated disciples of Jesus. The place and worth of a church is when it offers people the opportunity to be spiritually fed and nurtured so as to flourish and embrace the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit which are made available to us.
Trying To Give Up!
In the Western Church, attendances have certainly declined which contrasts, when questioned, to many people who still express a belief in God, Jesus and the importance of church life! Comparisons can be made with church attendances in Africa, Asia, Latin America and other places within the world where the Christian church is growing and is very vibrant.
When I attended Emmanuel Bible College and Manchester University, I majored in church history. The term history was often referred to as God’s (His-Story) that has, and does, influence world history which contrasts with forces opposing God’s (His-Story). The Western world in its current state has neglected, and seeks to give up where possible, the teachings and lifestyles of Jesus as expressed in the church. However, in its new-found wisdom and enlightenment, it struggles to replace God’s order and lacks wisdom, depth and healing.
Taking up His Cross!
Jesus entered a chaotic world under the governorship of the Roman Empire, dominated by the Jewish faith and surrounded by a strong Greco secular world which worshiped idols and human philosophies. In the midst of such chaos and confusion, Jesus and his disciples established the Christian faith which developed from altars to an ‘unknown god’ and the synagogues.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the disciples would have felt confused and fearful but, as we read in Acts 2, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower them to sustain new church communities and buildings. This is exampled in the history of the church as seen in the established Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Church of England and non-conformist churches. Those within the early church suffered persecution for their faith, Celtic missionaries shared the gospel throughout the Middle Ages and many leaders were raised up during the Reformation, Enlightenment, Revival and Renewal periods often when it seemed that the church would no longer exist!
Carol – you touched on the fact that it is difficult to determine exactly why people do not want to attend church. In the Old Testament, many prophets and priests acted in an unholy manner and neglectful of their responsibilities as Good Shepherds and teachers over their flocks. They succumbed to worshipping foreign gods and embraced ungodly teachings which compromised their faith, lifestyle and example to their congregations.
As sin (defined in a biblical context) increases in human society, it will affect political, philosophical, religious and social views and actions. World and spiritual leaders without the Spirit of God to guide and inspire them will only offer human wisdom that in itself is limited and will fail to deliver real peace, love and harmony. God allows people to wallow in their misdeeds for a season but, as Galatians 6: 7 points out, God is not mocked and whatever a person sows they will reap accordingly. God in various ways moves mountains and obstacles to unsettle those who seek to live without Him and offers renewal and restoration to all those who turn to Him in repentance and faith.
World history from a Christian viewpoint can and does repeat itself in periods when the church is healthy and when in decline. The church is not moving towards oblivion but rather to a time when God will change the whole world order back to its original intent as found in the Garden of Eden.
We do not know how or when that will take place but, in faith and belief, we do not have to worry about how the church is or isn’t at any one point in time. God wants all of His creation to embrace personal faith in Jesus as their Saviour and Lord and will enable people to live a life of holy discipleship which acts as salt and light in an unsavoury and dark world.
A few years ago when returning from a Men for Missions trip in Albania, we had an extended stay at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. As I walked around the vast airport, I witnessed people from all walks of life, from different cultures and backgrounds, and I had an amazing sense that each and every person in that airport represented the diverse wonders of God’s creation in colour, creed and thought.
Thanks for the photo Oleksanr Pexels,com
There are no boundaries or constraints upon God’s timing and workings within world history; He raises kings, prophets and priests. He puts down nations, leaders and movements. God is in control of the environment and has the capacity, even with the neglect of humans, to renew and refresh His world.
When we attend a worship service in church or walk around the cathedral of God’s earthly creation, it is secondary to wonder as to whether or not we are in a period of decline, health or increase. In John 17: 25-26, Jesus prays for himself, the disciples and for the future church. “Though the world does not know you, I know you and they know you have sent me. I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
In following God personally we may experience His peace, forgiveness and healing alongside His almighty protection, provision and wonderful presence and, just like all the saints and those persecuted for their faith, God gives strength to the weak and an assurance that all is well in His hands.
Ps As you listen to this amazing hymn ‘The Day thou Gavest Lord has ended,’ sung in a capacity Salisbury Cathedral, the last verse tells us that God’s kingdom stands, and grows forever. Amen to that.