I have had at least three conversations in the past two weeks with individuals who have told me that when their church goes back to regular in-person worship services, they will not.
All three of these people were from different congregations representing Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, and Nondenominational but all three cited a similar reason as to why they are not planning on returning their church.
All three agreed that they are happy watching their pastor’s sermon online and that they feel that their spiritual well-being is either better or no less rewarding than when they physically attended in-person church.
None of these cited any reluctance to return because of the pandemic or health concerns, just that they have discovered a simpler way to grow in their faith.
I find this interesting, and here is why…
It is no secret that I favor a simpler and smaller approach to doing “church” even in gatherings as small as 2 or 3. Yes, I like pointing to Matthew 18:20 and Jesus’ words that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
New Testament gatherings seem to have been smaller and simpler, and the large mega church seems to have grown out of cultures where masses have learned to gather for other events like sporting and entertainment.
I am not anti-mega church just because I am pro-micro church. You could fish through my past articles in the Simpler Church category of my Blog and I am pretty certain you will find my statements on the value of both micro and mega churches being part of the Great Commission.
Of the three people I was referring to, only one of them was a member of a mega church with membership into the thousands, and the other two would be considered small churches with 50 to 100 members. So we really can’t lay the blame at the mega church or smaller church dynamics. All three were not avoiding their churches, but all three were wanting more of the simpler spirituality they were getting at home.
There is two little side notes to my conversations with these three that are also interesting to consider.
1) They stated that they will continue watching the online viewing being offered. That made me wonder if their church’s use of online sermons will hinder in-person attendance and fellowship.
I think the weekly fellowship one receives with in-person church gatherings is extremely important to living the Christian life. On the other hand, I realize that going to church on a Sunday morning is no guarantee of experiencing real fellowship. It’s possible to head home from in-person services having had no significant interaction with anyone else.
I also understand that fellowship can be met with others at home or by intentional visits with Christian friends or maybe to certain degree through social media.
A few years back I heard a pastor talk about his church’s media ministry and that when they started putting his sermons online, their weekly attendance declined. After brainstorming with his media team, they learned how they could block the signal within a several mile radius around the church building and their attendance numbers went back up.
2) Of the three people who expressed their assessment that after 4 months of being at home they felt their spiritual well-being was either better or the same, two mentioned or alluded to their church sub-culture of promoting church attendance as an obligation.
Hebrews 10:25 admonishes us to “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” but that assembling could be at home or other locations for the purpose of prayer and the ministry of the word.
I think we pastors may be to blame for creating a sense of attendance obligation among our flocks that may have more to do with our internal fears of meeting budgets and having volunteers in place to turn the organizational wheels of motion necessary for the local church as established.
The point of this second side note, is that these people who are not planning on returning were expressing that they discovered that their local church hyped the sense of obligation to attend.
One of these people even mentioned that the payoff of corralling his family in getting ready for church, dealing with the commute, having the stress of divvying everyone up to the right Sunday School, was not high enough compared to the same spiritual uplift they get as a family in their pajamas watching the online sermon and praying together.
My conversations with these three left me feeling oddly justified about my personal values on simpler primitive micro-church over larger programming, but it also caused me to feel a bit sad for future of churches in America.
I am reading of churches that have decided to wait until 2021 to get back to in-person gatherings. It makes me wonder if their parishioners will be as proactive as the three I have referred to or will they simply be out of habit from even considering themselves part of the church.
I don’t claim to know what to say or how the pastors of our nation should respond, after all I do have my own responsibility before God with my own little flock, but I do trust each pastor will work it out with the Lord.
In my conversations with these three, I did encourage them to keep their eyes fixed on the Lord and intentionally walk with Him through daily prayer and Bible study. I would suggest the same for anyone not returning to church.
I would even suggest that if you are not returning to your church that you consider ways to build fellowship with other Christians, maybe even help start a house church or a micro-church with a few others over a weekly gathering at a coffee house or a restaurant.
If that peaks your interest, take a look at the free resources available to you in your Christian walk and house church ministry at the CrossHope Chapel website when you scroll down the front page.
And as always, please contact me if you have any questions.