If you haven’t picked up on it by now, this will be the blog post that assures you I fall short in my faithfulness in so many ways!
True confession time. Prior to January, if you asked me if I thought that weekly church attendance was critical to my spiritual well-being I would have said “eh, not really.” Big moments of spiritual growth didn’t happen for me on Sunday morning; they happened at retreats, where intense focus, study and community for 48 hours straight set my spirit to overflowing. Or it happened in small group Bible studies where there is a measure of safety that allows me to be raw and honest, sharing real truths. Or large conferences where amazing key-note speakers reignited the passion I felt as a young believer and being in a room with 800 other people singing 10,000 Reasons moved me to tears.
Sure, it was important to have a church home, someplace to feel connected. But church for me was primarily an entryway to learning about those conferences and retreats, finding a small group Bible study to join, or getting connected to other Christians. It was a chance to serve and give back (if the area where I served even required me to be there on Sunday morning, which often it didn’t). But Sunday morning service? It was not something my soul yearned for each week. It was just a means to an end. And the truth is I’m not the only one to think like this.
According to “Sacred Roots: Why the Church Still Matters” by the Barna Group, 51% of people surveyed say church is not very important to them, and 40% of that group say they find God elsewhere — outside of church. That means at least 20% of believers aren’t looking to Sunday morning worship to be a source of spiritual growth. And those that do think church is still relevant? Well these days going to church once a month is considered regular attendance by that group, compared to my parent’s generation where 3 or more times a month was considered regular attendance. And I get it, because until very recently I fell into that group.
I’m sure the reasons for this trend of Christians moving away from church are varied, and I don’t proclaim to speak on behalf of any large group. But I do know what it feels like to be hurt by the church. To be disappointed or let down. I’ve been there. I also know what it feels like to be uninspired and unchallenged, walking to the parking lot thinking, “well, checked that off my to-do list.” I know what it feels like to enter the sanctuary doors and just feel like a number. These are all reasons that have caused me to leave a church. And maybe you have left the church, or rarely attend anymore for one of these, as well. But if I’ve learned one thing in my ongoing quest to find the “perfect church” it’s that no church is perfect.
Churches mess up because they are run by people. And people? Well we’re far from perfect and we mess up. A lot. All of us! And as long as we hold our church leaders to higher standards than we hold ourselves, we will be let down. If this is where you are and why you have left the church or don’t attend regularly, I encourage you to forgive and not give up.
For me, despite having been let-down or disappointed in the past, my lack of regular attendance stemmed more from apathy than distrust. Church didn’t challenge me. It didn’t energize me. It didn’t fill my soul.
And this is where I found myself in the last couple of years, feeling like regular church attendance just wasn’t necessary to my walk with Christ.
But that all changed about 7 months ago. You see our church — the one I attended about once a month — decided to expand by adding a second site right in our neighborhood, and our small group Bible study was asked to be a part of the planning and leadership team. On the outside, I was all for it. But internally? I wasn’t sure I was fully on board.
Despite my uneasiness and resistance, I heard God encouraging me to be a part of this. To ride the wave and see what happened.
“Come on, Jelise, this is going to be really amazing! You need to share in this!”
“OK Lord, but I’m not making any promises for the long-term,” I bargained. “You know how I feel about Sunday mornings! I’m not sure I can commit to being there every week.”
So God laughed.
Then He found a way to get me there every week. I became part of the leadership team and my husband started playing in the band. Both of these roles required we be there every Sunday. The first few services, well they were good. I genuinely enjoyed them. But I still didn’t feel impassioned. I was going more out of obligation than some deep-seated desire to be in that chair every Sunday morning.
Then, about the 3rd or 4th Sunday things started to change. I remember standing there as the band played, singing along to the words and my throat started to close as my eyes welled with tears. I felt every word of that song. “Your love never fails, it never gives up. It never runs out on me. On and on and on and on it goes. It overwhelms and satisfies my soul.” And I was…overwhelmed and satisfied. Then the sermon started and I had a new-found intent and focus to how I listened. I was immersed in our Pastor’s words and I felt like God was using them to speak directly to me. And the next Sunday the same thing happened, and the next, and the next, and the…well you get the point.
Pretty soon it got so that I woke up Sunday morning yearning to go to church! Don’t you love that word, yearn? It so perfectly describes how I began to feel. Going to church was suddenly a must-have, a highlight to my week. It was no longer something I did if I wasn’t too tired to stay home, or a place I went out of obligation. And the work God has done in me and my spiritual growth in the last 7 months? Well, it’s been nothing short of phenomenal.
Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Jesus himself tells us that when we gather with others to worship Him, He will meet us there! This is what I have experienced in the past seven months. God has met me there every Sunday, week after week. I just had to be obedient enough to show up!
It took some divine intervention to get me to start going to church every week, but once I did? Boy did I realize how wrong I was about the impact the church has on my spiritual well-being. I have been re-ignited. Each Sunday leaves my soul filled to the brim and overflowing with joy, peace, and desire to get into The Word.
If you feel like I did, that being in church every week isn’t critical to your walk with God. If you’ve been hurt, disappointed or uninspired by the church and feel like it’s become irrelevant and unnecessary, please, I encourage you, don’t put it off any longer. If you don’t have a church, find one. If you have one, but don’t attend regularly, commit to going every week for 8 weeks and see what happens in your life. I guarantee, God will meet you there.