Thinking Out Loud

July 13, 2017

6 Areas Where Church Dropouts Miss Out

FellowshipWe are in the middle of a church attendance crisis. What was always a weekly occurrence for individuals and families is often, at very best, only twice a month. Some are skipping entire months at a time. Others have simply discontinued the church habit, with no return in sight.

While some continue the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study, others are more certain to have their absence from weekend worship signal a drift away. Twice in 1 Timothy 6:10 and 6:21, Paul uses the phrase “wandered from the faith.” The micro-context is “the love of money” and worldly influences; but clearly a faith that was more anchored would not drift.

Some will argue, “I haven’t wandered from the faith, I’ve simply had it with the local church.” Believe me, I get that; I get that more than you can imagine, even if you’re a regular reader here. But every Sunday I get up and make the trip. Not because I’m obeying the commandment to, or because I’ll feel the Evangelical equivalent to Catholic guilt if I don’t, but rather because the benefits clearly outweigh the cost.

We could look at all the factors that are in play right now causing many to give up a lifetime of church participation, but today I would rather focus on the positives; the things we gain by gathering together.

FellowshipThere is so much to be gained from community. The small group movement has made this even more meaningful. In that context, as Andy Stanley says, “It’s harder to fall out of a circle than it is to fall out of a row.” When we worship in a larger body, we’re also observing other people at worship, hearing their testimonies, and witnessing the spiritual growth taking place in their lives. We’re also putting ourselves in a place to minister to others.

Corporate PrayerIt’s hard to participate in “If two of you will agree as touching anything on earth” prayers by yourself. There is something to be said for coming into God’s presence en masse and then interceding on behalf of individuals facing great needs, our spiritual leaders, the local and national government, and the work of God around the world.

Personal PrayerThe obvious consequence of corporate prayer is that there are people available to pray with you when it’s your need that is uppermost.

Corporate Worship Even if you don’t like the song, or don’t prefer the style, there are many intangible blessings of being part of a local assembly lifting their voices in praise that simply can’t be duplicated at home. I know those “worship moments” in nature are meaningful, and singing in the car with a worship CD turned up loud can be inspiring, but in my life, many corporate worship occasions have been life highlights.

GivingYou can give online, of course, but many people don’t. In the offering, we participate together in financing God’s work in the local church and are made aware of the needs of missions operating throughout the world. Giving is an act of worship.

Confession Many services offer a call to go forward or stand or raise a hand and through a physical action affirm that God is speaking to us about a particular aspect of the day’s teaching. Even a short time of silence gives us an opportunity to respond to God in ways that might never come about through watching a sermon on a computer or television, where ‘dead air’ isn’t desirable.

CommunionThis is last, but certainly not least. The modern “breaking of bread” service, or Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist has a direct connection to the Passover meal. As we receive the bread and wine in community we do so in humility and thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us.

These are just a few of the benefits that occur when we don’t give up meeting together. You might be able to approximate some of these individually, and if circumstances require that, then you certainly should try. But I believe these things were intended to work best collectively.


Appendix: Support scripture passages:

We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming. – Hebrews 10:25 GW

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer… And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had…They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity. – Acts 2: 42, 44, 46 NLT

I was gladdened when they said to me, “We are going to the house of Lord Jehovah”! – Psalm 122:1 Aramaic Bible in Plain English


Christianity:

Coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus Christ and being joined to a company of imperfect people who are trying to live a new life in a new way.
~ Larry Tomczak (circa 1976)

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July 19, 2015

The Increasing Number of Church Dropouts

We are in the middle of a church attendance crisis. What was always a weekly occurrence for individuals and families is often, at very best, only twice a month. Some are skipping entire months at a time. Others have simply discontinued the church habit, with no return in sight.

While some continue the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study, others are more certain to have their absence from weekend worship signal a drift away. Twice in 1 Timothy 6:10 and 6:21, Paul uses the phrase “wandered from the faith.” The micro-context is “the love of money” and worldly influences; but clearly a faith that was more anchored would not drift.

We could look at all the factors that are in play right now causing many to give up a lifetime of church participation, but today I would rather focus on the positives; the things we gain by gathering together.

FellowshipFellowshipThere is so much to be gained from community. The small group movement has made this even more meaningful. As Andy Stanley says, “It’s harder to fall out of a circle than it is to fall out of a row.” When we worship in a larger body, we’re also observing other people at worship, hearing their testimonies, and witnessing the spiritual growth taking place in their lives. We’re also putting ourselves in a place to minister to others.

Corporate PrayerIt’s hard to participate in “If two of you will agree as touching anything on earth” prayers by yourself. There is something to be said for coming into God’s presence en masse and then interceding on behalf of individuals facing great needs, our spiritual leaders, the local and national government, and the work of God around the world.

Personal PrayerThe obvious consequence of corporate prayer is that there are people available to pray with you when it’s your need that is uppermost.

Corporate Worship Even if you don’t like the song, or don’t prefer the style, there are many intangible blessings of being part of a local assembly lifting their voices in praise that simply can’t be duplicated at home. I know those “worship moments” in nature are meaningful, and singing in the car with a worship CD turned up loud can be inspiring, but in my life, many corporate worship occasions have been life highlights.

GivingYou can give online, of course, but many people don’t. In the offering, we participate together in financing God’s work in the local church and are made aware of the needs of missions operating throughout the world.

Confession Many services offer a call to go forward or stand or raise a hand and through a physical action affirm that God is speaking to us about a particular aspect of the day’s teaching. Even a short time of silence gives us an opportunity to respond to God in ways that might never come about through watching a sermon on a computer or television, where ‘dead air’ isn’t desirable.

CommunionThis is last, but certainly not least. The modern “breaking of bread” service, or Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist has a direct connection to the Passover meal. As we receive the bread and wine in community we do so in humility and thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us.

These are just a few of the benefits that occur when we don’t give up meeting together. 


Appendix: Support scripture passages:

We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming. – Hebrews 10:25 GW

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer… And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had…They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity. – Acts 2: 42, 44, 46 NLT

I was gladdened when they said to me, “We are going to the house of Lord Jehovah”! – Psalm 122:1 Aramaic Bible in Plain English


Christianity:

Coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus Christ and being joined to a company of imperfect people who are trying to live a new life in a new way.
~ Larry Tomczak (circa 1976)

 

 

 

 

January 19, 2015

Review: Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ

Killed by the Church Resurrected By Christ - Rick AppersonIf someone decides to start something like Churchgoers Anonymous, I think I’ve just found your curriculum: Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ published by WestBow Press. Author Rick Apperson has had his share of strange church experiences. Remarkably, just weeks after visiting some of these congregations, the place would shut down. Someone suggested it was like having Angela Lansbury of Murder She Wrote show up at your front door, but clearly, none of this was Rick Apperson’s fault.

From Pennsylvania to East Tennessee to Croatia to British Columbia; and from Catholic to Charismatic to Congregational; Rick has seen his share of church governance models, worship styles, and quirky parishioners. But mostly he’s seen hurt, frustration, and disappointment. If anyone had the right to walk away from it all, it was him and the book’s final chapter should end with total rejection of faith in God.

But instead, Rick, later with wife Sarah, perseveres. We aren’t told what drives this desire to keep attending even in the face of lies and false doctrine, but he seems to always be willing to risk the vulnerability of starting from scratch in a new place of worship.

Despite the autobiographical nature of Killed by the Church, there is much teaching here and I would suggest that at 132 pages, the book offers more food-for-thought than books twice its size. What’s more, despite what some would consider the ‘in-group’ nature of a critique on the local church, it is presented in a very simple, very casual writing style that might actually resonate with that person you know who has walked away from weekly church attendance.

Most of the chapters in the book conclude with a section called “What I Learned on the Way to the Resurrection” where Rick does delve a little deeper into the life lessons underlying his personal journey. Then there is a section called “Taking it Deeper” which is a set of discussion questions that could be used in a group setting, but are also deeply personal to the reader.

I can’t say enough how much I think people who have abandoned church could identify with this book. However, despite the many ways that people in local assemblies may have wounded them, this book has a very positive spirit to it and could be part of their journey to healing.

…I’ve been following Rick’s blog, Just a Thought almost from its inception and have especially enjoyed the Five Questions With… series he runs with Christian leaders and authors. After years of association with Youth With A Mission, today he serves with The Salvation Army.

In the last chapter, just to show that God has a sense of humor, we learn that Rick and Sarah planted a church. Who better? 


Read an excerpt from chapter 2 of the book at Christianity 201.


Paperback 9781490853789 $13.99 US
Hardcover 9781490853772 $30.99 US

July 21, 2009

The 100 Mile Church Diet

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:08 pm

Next Church

The first thing you need to know is that the title of this post is referencing a book, The 100 Mile Diet which challenges the notion that people living in temperate climates should expect to eat strawberries in the middle of winter, and that if they do consume such things, it is at great cost to the environment and its resources.

Here’s how Wikipedia defines the book:

The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating (or Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally) is a non-fiction book written by Canadian writers Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. In the book, the authors recount their experiences, including motivations and challenges, on restricting their diet, for one year, to include only foods grown within 100 miles of their residence. Beginning in March 2005, with little preparation the urban couple began only purchasing foods with ingredients they knew were all from within 100 miles. Finding little in grocery stores, they relied on farmer’s markets and visits to local farms. Staples in their diet included seafood, chicken, root vegetable, berries, and corn. They lacked cooking oils, rice, and sugar. They preserved foods for use in the winter but ended with extra supplies.        You can keep reading this article here.

It’s possible where you live, this is called “the local food diet,” or in terms of the transportation issues, is related to “the low carbon diet.”   A person who keeps to this diet may be referred to as a “locovore.”   You’ll also hear the word “sustainable” used much in this context.

…Driving seven hours to get to church on the weekend was excessive, to say the least.    It was also worth it, as I made clear in yesterday’s post.   We enjoyed our visit to Mars Hill immensely, and obviously, there’s nothing quite like that we passed on the way.

We have no relatives in west Michigan, and while we did do some shopping, the centerpiece of our trip was that one church service; something border guards on both sides of the Blue Water Bridge probably found somewhat amusing when I told them.   We had tried previously to combine a Mars Hill trip with a larger family vacation, but hey, Mr. Bell is entitled to a week off in the summer.

We also know people who have gone great distances to hear a particular speaker, or attend a particular conference or festival.    As a teen, I attended the first Creation festivals in Pennsylvania.   Some friends that lived here would rave about trips to the Billy Graham Conference Center, aka The Cove.    I’d love to do that sometime.     We drove to Willow in Chicago a few years back; a trip that seemed somewhat ‘blessed’ compared to others we’d taken, at least in terms of the things that can go wrong on road trips.    We know a man who flew his own airplane to cities where Benny Hinn was conducting his crusades.

But we also know people in larger cities who will drive by dozens of smaller churches to get to the one megachurch that suits their tastes.   Conversely, there are people who forsake the churches in our own community for little-known, somewhat esoteric places of worship located in distant places.

It’s been said that the best church is a church you can walk to.    I do get the wisdom of that statement, and I think there is value to having shared experience with local schools, auto repair clinics, supermarkets, etc., with the people you worship with on Sunday; not to mention the ability to invite people in those same contexts to be part of what you do each sabbath.

But sometimes, people “settle” for local churches, when the thing that really excites them is the idea of attending a church in a distant place.    There definitely is something special happening at Willow and at Mars Hill and at dozens of other places that are not located anywhere near here. We’d be willing to drive a shorter distance if we could be guaranteed the same quality, the same content, the same authenticity, the same commitment to spiritual excellence.

I’d also be prepared to commit if there were a group of people who are aiming for those goals, but perhaps not 100% there yet.  It may not be as big, or attract enough people for two services, or have a pastor who is a published author or hosts his own video series.   It just has to have the same attitude.

The thing that sets Mars Hill apart is that they’re not about to play “status quo church.”

For us, that was worth a couple of days, several tankfuls of gas, and a couple of nights in a hotel. Absent other considerations, I’d turn around and do the same thing next weekend.

  • Have you ever driven a long distance to attend a single church service?
  • If you had unlimited time and money, and a reliable form of transportation, what churches would top your list to visit?
  • British readers:   We North Americans can be obsessed about certain church ‘hot spots.’   Are there similar ‘must see’ churches in the U.K.?   Australia?   New Zealand?

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