One of the greatest sources of joy in my life is coming to church.
I am disappointed when I can't be here for some reason, and I'm equally disappointed when some of you are not here as well. So I want to talk about church attendance this morning, but not in a negative way. I don't want to create guilt or accuse or shame anyone about this topic. Actually, I want to give you reasons to come, motivation to be faithful to all services, positive reinforcement for those who attend regularly, and encouragement for those who don't.
But first, let's look at some statistics. The image you see is from the oldest bulletin we still have in our archives:
- October 30, 1977 (Harold's been an elder 35+ years)
- Note the elders, deacons, minister
Note also that the two articles on the inside of the bulletin were both about maintaining a strong commitment to church attendance on Sunday and Wednesday. The really interesting thing is the page with the statistics from that period.
- Sunday Bible Class 204
- Sunday Worship 252 (81%)
- Sunday Evening Worship 160 (63%)
- Wednesday Service 158 (62%)
Let's fast forward and look at the statistics for the year 2000.
- Sunday Bible Class 234
- Sunday Worship 401 (58%)
- No stats available for PM/Wednesday
Now for statistics for the present year 2012:
- Sunday Bible Class 158
- Sunday Worship 304 (50%)
- No stats available for PM/Wednesday, although I can say we average 40-50% for Wednesday and Sunday.
Have you noticed the trend here? We've gone from 81% of the congregation attending Bible class to barely 50% in the last 30 years. There may be many reasons offered to explain this:
- People have busier lives.
- There's less interest in Bible study than in the past.
However, no matter what reason is given, there is a common factor that explains the lack of commitment represented in these statistics, a decrease in personal faith. You see, there is a vicious cycle at work here:
Since faith is built and maintained through the hearing of God's word (Romans 10:17), when we neglect doing so our faith is weakened as well as our spiritual enthusiasm for worship and Bible study. The result is that the less we hear the word, the less we want to hear it, the less we fill ourselves with the Word, the more we are filled with the world. The cycle sees us first neglecting Bible study on Sunday then getting into the habit of skipping Sunday evening and before long, we don't see the need to be here on Wednesday's either. The end result is that we eventually become part of that 50% not here for Bible study and worship most of the time. Like I said at the beginning, my goal here is not guilt, it's motivation.
So for the 50% here all the time and the 50% here only for Sunday worship, let me give you five reasons to rejoice when you attend church.
The Joy of Obedience
Ever since the formation of the Jewish Nation, God has clearly commanded that His people gather to worship Him publicly.
And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.
- Luke 4:16
Even Jesus Himself obeyed this command. He and His family travelled every year to Jerusalem (70 mile journey) for religious observance. They closed the business and walked.
Hebrews 10:24-25 continues this expression of God's will for His people today:
24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
In earlier chapters, the Hebrew writer explains that we have better reasons to celebrate when we gather to worship than those who did so in the Old Testament:
- Accomplished salvation
- Knowledge of the Messiah
- Clearer understanding of our heavenly reward, etc.
When we gather to worship, we obey God and there is great joy in our hearts knowing that we are doing what God wants us to do. The reasons we use to skip Bible class or Wednesday services are never supplied to us by God or His Word.
Regardless of the obstacles, coming to church is the right thing to do, and doing the right thing feels good.
Coming to church also gives us…
The Joy of Confessing Christ
In I Corinthians 11:26, Paul says that when we share communion we are proclaiming Christ. Public communion is a collective demonstration of our faith. Like during the elections people gather with signs proclaiming their support of a candidate or idea. When we take communion, we are proclaiming who and what we believe to the world.
I have the joy of knowing that when I am here with my brothers and sisters, I am confessing Jesus' name, something I cannot do from the couch at my house. Even if I've not been able to witness Christ throughout the week, the Lord provides me with an opportunity to do so here on Sunday.
In Matthew 10:32, Jesus says that those who confess His name here on earth, He will reciprocate and confess their names before the Father in heaven. I have great joy when I come to church because my presence here signals the fact that Jesus is confessing my name and yours, at this very moment, in heaven.
So I have the joy that comes from obedience and witnessing Christ…
The Joy of Helping Others
In I Corinthians 16:1-2, we see that the Apostles directed the churches to put money aside to help the poor. When I come to church, I have the joy of giving my money and time to things done in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ. There are many good causes that we can give to help people, but only the church helps people in the name of Christ. To give for the glory of Christ is pleasing to God. I, therefore, have a double joy:
- The joy that comes from giving. Jesus said that giving is more blessed than to receive (Acts 20:35) This is true for the believer or atheist.
- I also have the joy that comes from doing something that makes God smile.
If you wanted to motivate yourself in the area of giving just imagine what you'd give if it was Jesus Himself passing the plate or doing the counting, instead of our deacons. Will God be pleased with your offering? Will you know this joy this morning?
Coming to Church will give me…
The Joy of Knowing God Intimately
- In Ephesians 1:17, Paul tells us that it is possible to know God intimately (like being in love).
- In John 17:3, Jesus says that the knowledge of God is the essence of the experience referred to as "eternal life" in the Bible. God will give us a glorious body so we can continue to know Him eternally.
- In John 6:63, Jesus says that the way to know God and experience that eternal life for the Christian is through the knowledge of God's word. The more we know the Word, the more we taste eternal life.
- In Acts 2:42, the early Christians devoted themselves to learning God's word from the Apostles, in order to know God more perfectly. In the same way, I come to know God and experience the first fruits of my eternal life as I grow in the knowledge of His word, and that growth begins here in the church and works its way into every part of my life.
Some people mistakenly believe that by cutting back on church attendance they will improve their careers or family life when the opposite is what happens. Less church, less joy in every area of life. My experience has shown me that those who do this are neither happier or more enlightened.
Finally, church attendance creates…
The Joy of Fellowship – Acts 2:42;46-47
The songs we share; the prayers we make on behalf of one another; the tender offers of help and encouragement; the holy atmosphere, all of these and more make the sharing of this experience a joyful thing. I am genuinely happy when I am here because there is no place in this world like heaven, and in this world, there is no closer place to heaven than right here! The church is the kingdom of heaven on earth. If you don't believe me try comparing what goes on here to a football game or your work place or school. You'll see the difference. And the difference is that here we not only have fellowship with each other, we also have it with Jesus, the source of joy (Matthew 18:20).
Now when I preach a lesson about church attendance there is invariably someone who will come up to me and say, "Well, all this "joy" business is okay, but, do I have to come to every service? Is it a sin if I don't come Wednesday or Sunday night, or for Sunday Bible school? Let me answer that as I close. When someone asks that question it usually reflects a poor spiritual attitude to begin with.
- This is the kind of attitude that wants to do only the basic things required — an attitude that wants to know the minimum service necessary in order to please God. It shows that we're not trying to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul, it reveals a lukewarm attitude.
- If my attitude is right with God, it will be reflected in my attitude about church and church attendance. You see, attitude towards the church is a mirror for our attitude towards God. If we love the Lord, we should love being with His brothers and sisters. Luke 8:19-21
- Also, if we love the Lord, we should be seeking first His kingdom. Mathew 6:33 And, seeking His kingdom cannot be done without a serious involvement in His church.
- Instead of asking the question, "Is it a sin if I don't come? Or, do I have to attend every service?" I have a better question for you. "What can I do to make my church attendance more joyful?"
Hopefully, the things I've talked about today will start you on the path to more faithful and joyful church attendance.
Let me go back to statistics as we close out.
- Potential Attendance = 529
- Bible Class = 273
- Worship = 382
- Bible Class/Worship = 71%
- Potential Attendance = 405
- Bible Class = 153
- Worship = 304
- Bible Class/Worship = 50%
I want those who really want the church to reverse this trend and begin to grow again to take the first step in that direction. Start attending Sunday Bible class with your family, if you're not already doing so. Neglect of this is what started the decline of the congregation and a return to this first and foremost will stop the slide and turn it around.
And if you're already doing that then add Sunday night or Wednesday to your schedule - Less of the world, more of the kingdom. This is what we need!
So I invite anyone here who needs the prayers of the church, or needs to be baptized or restored to come forward now.
And I also invite everyone here to re-commit to joyful church attendance whenever the saints meet to worship God and study His word.