Lately, I have run into a number of Christians who have dropped out of the habit of regular church attendance. Most of them have done so as a result of COVID-19 and churches being closed for “in-person” worship. It is so easy to do a live-stream service from the recliner with a cup of coffee nearby.
If your only motivation for attending church is to hear a good sermon, then a sermon video or a sermon Podcast are likely to satisfy that desire. But our experience of the church should be so much more.
But, some have dropped out as a result of ill-treatment at the hands of church leaders. This is frustrating, but with the pressure to grow large churches, I’m seeing instances where church leaders are too focused on numerical growth to actually care for individual members well.
I am embarrassed to admit that I have attended churches that catered to the church-consumer mentality in the past. That mentality causes people to shop around for the type of worship they like combined with a stimulating and entertaining sermon. It got so bad at one megachurch that I attended in Southern California years ago that I could tell when the regular pastor was not preaching by seeing half the amount of cars in the parking lot on a Sunday. I’m not sure if those who were not there were at a different church or if they just stayed home.
I’m not saying that it is wrong to seek a church that has a worship style that you enjoy. I’m not saying that it is wrong to want to hear preaching that is dynamic and informative.
I am saying that to have the mentality that makes it OK to constantly be shopping for a church experience that better suits one’s preferences is counterproductive to real spiritual growth.
Real fellowship cannot be obtained without commitment. We need other believers around us. We need to be committed to them and them to us. The author of Hebrews put it this way:
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”Hebrews 10:23–25, ESV
We are to stir one another up to love and good works.
By meeting together.
Zoom was OK when it was the only option during COVID. But it takes face-to-face meeting for us to be challenged and encouraged in our pursuit of obedience to the word of God.
Just look at the difference between real life and Facebook. Everyone looks like they have it together on Facebook. But in real life, those with whom we have regular contact know the stuff that takes place between the selfies at fun locations. There is a lot of messiness that needs to be grown out of and that is better done with the help of other believers who come alongside us.
One other thought, find a church whose leadership is modeling that commitment to fellowship. Find out if the pastor actually attends a small group or merely encourages members to do so. Find out if there is mutual accountability between the pastor and the elders or if the pastor views the elders as worker bees to implement his vision. A few questions along these lines, even if they are a bit awkward, may help you avoid a toxic church culture.
This is important because an organization takes on traits of the person at the top. If the pastor isn’t in fellowship to learn and grow, then it is unlikely that the culture of that church will be one that will help you learn and grow.
Paul told the Ephesians that they needed to be “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21, ESV). Church leaders are not exempt from this command.
In America, it seems as though our culture is moving from ambivalence toward Christianity to open hostility, especially in media outlets. As it does so, our need for fellowship will be even greater.