Why You Should Go Back To Church
It's been no secret that church attendance in the U.S. has been on the decline for the past few decades---up to a 3% decrease every year for at least the last 30 years.
As a pastor, I can attest to this fact and the statements that people would make to me as to why they no longer attended a church. They would say things like:
"I've given up on church."
"The Church is full of hypocrites."
"I don't need a church to experience God."
"Church is irrelevant."
Honestly, those of us who lead in the Church grew used to those reasons and shaped our worship, ministries, and missions to respond to them.
But after a global pandemic rocked the world, the decline in church attendance and engagement has been accelerated dramatically, and there don't seem to be a lot of answers readily available.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that most congregations are experiencing a 30-50% decline in attendance and involvement from church members who used to be regulars.
You would think that during a time of uncertainty when many of us are dealing with anxiety about the future, as well as a host of other issues, that we would be more inclined to make our faith community a priority.
But that has not been the case.
Practically speaking, I think that during the long period of quarantine people just got used to doing other things on Sunday mornings. But I also think that there's something else fueling the lack of return.
I believe for many of us our faith was shaken over these past many months. We've struggled to trust that God is in control. We've also struggled to believe that the Church has answers to all that we've endured.
And so it's been far easier to focus on the fault lines within our faith communities, and in so doing many of us have decided we don't really need church any longer. At least not in the ways that we did before the pandemic.
I was recently reading Rachel Held Evans' posthumously published book Wholehearted, and I came across this beautiful passage that speaks directly into this moment I'm describing.
Evans describes what it means to live with a wholehearted kind of faith, the kind that is open to the Spirit, heart-forward, vulnerable, and fully surrendered to God. She then says this about one of the major aspects of this kind of faith:
Humans are fickle, faith can be fragile, and the church--that rambunctious collection of the fickle and the fragile--is a broken and complicated institution. Wholehearted faith means putting yourself at risk of being hurt by that institution and its people.
Listen, I'm not writing all of this because I'm somehow trying to prop up the Church, and create some kind of job security for myself. I'm simply stating a fact.
The Church as an institution might not be in the greatest shape right now, and I understand the temptation to distance yourself from it.
But your local church, the family of faith that has supported you, comforted you, stood with you and inspired you needs you now more than ever. It's time to open your heart up and embrace the risk of vulnerability.
It's time to come home again---whether it's in person or online.
If you have checked out of your local church because you have fallen out of the habit of attending, or you have been struggling to return because it's painful to do so... it's time to get re-engaged.
I know you will discover anew why you went in the first place, and why you need to be surrounded by other people who are fickle and fragile, broken and complicated.
May you find your way back if you have left, and may you find renewal if you have remained but feel as though your spirit is flagging. May you find strength in vulnerability and hope in a beloved community.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.