I’ve been reading an interesting fiction book called Daughter of Time, by Sarah Woodbury, about a twentieth century woman who finds herself in thirteenth century Wales. At one point she is comparing social interactions between the two cultures, and she says of the twentieth century:
“As a rule, you’d never look at or talk to a person you didn’t already know—whether on the street, at a meal, or in a shop. Everybody behaves as if they are completely alone, even when—or especially when—surrounded by a crowd… Because chances are, you’ll never see any of those people again. It isn’t worth the time and effort invested… It’s because we don’t depend on each other anymore” (204).
That seems to me to be an apt description of our culture and, unfortunately, even many of our churches today. I was reminded of what we’ve been discussing in Sunday school about the Israelites preparing to enter the Promised Land. Obviously they had to work together to conquer the land, but there was more to it than that. From the time of the Exodus and the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai, the people had to gather together regularly to hear the word of the Lord and hear the law explained. They didn’t have written copies of the Scriptures in every household. Worship and sacrifices had scheduled times and places. Their religious experience was communal, not individual.
Western culture today has made everything individualized. We all have access to multiple Bibles, commentaries, studies, sermons, podcasts, and other media that make it easy to “do religion” without ever interacting with another person. Yet that was never God’s intent for the Body of Christ. We can tend to resemble a bunch of scattered parts rather than an assembled body.
One of my jobs for the denomination is to compile the statistics submitted on church reports. It has long been the case that out of all the church members reported in our denomination, only about 64% are considered active members, and only about 60% are attending regularly. (However, I will say that we don’t have consistent definitions of member, active member, or attendance.) In some churches, only 20-30% of those listed as members are actually attending. Our denomination is not alone in this. An article on Christianity Today comments “Today, if ten people become church members, average attendance grows by five or six.” That article refers to an article by Thom Rainer that is both compelling and convicting. He offers five reasons church attendance is declining:
1) We are minimizing the importance of the local church.
2) We worship the idols of [personal and family] activities.
3) We take a lot of vacations from church.
4) We do not have high expectations of our members.
5) We make infrequent attendees leaders in our churches.
It can be depressing to see the trends and wonder what we can do to change them. It has become apparent to many leaders in many churches that our first responsibility is to pray. We must pray for God to work in the hearts of those who have walked away from the church (or even from the faith). We must pray about our own priorities and submit them to God’s will. We must pray about who we will put into leadership positions, and then continue to pray for them once they are there. We must pray for our church leadership to put God’s glory above all others things and to seek His will in all decisions. “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed” (John Bunyan).
“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 ESV).
© 2019 Dawn Rutan. Image copyright free from pixabay.com. The opinions stated do not necessarily reflect the views of my church or employer.