One of the assumptions that we have been raised with in the South is the simple idea that “going to church” automatically produces better Christians. The more you go to church, the better Christian you will become. A direct link is assumed between church attendance and spiritual growth. Not only is this applied to “going to church” every week, but it is also applied to “going to church” multiple times each week.
There is an old pastorism that goes like this: “If you love the church, you’ll go to church on Sunday morning. If you love the pastor, you’ll go to church on Sunday night. If you love the Lord, you’ll go to church on Wednesday night.” The presupposition is clear: the more you attend, the more you grow. In fact, many people will use the phrase “we were at church everytime the doors were open” to describe their church centered upbringing, and it is used as a badge of honor.
If we look at this assumption through the eyes of history, it doesn’t fare very well. For the better part of 1600 years (if not more), weekly church attendance was a once a week affair: Sunday mass. When the USA was younger, most people were lucky to be able to attend once a week instead of once a month due to the difficulties of traveling to the few church buildings scattered throughout the territory. The Sunday night service was a new invention only a couple hundred years old, and churches in the North have long since given up that tradition. Historically, “going to church” multiple times a week was neither an option nor expected.
If we look at the early church, they didn’t even have a building to go to. “Going to church” for them meant to gather in each other’s homes or to meet early in the open fields on Sunday morning to celebrate the resurrection. Church was not a place for them but a new reality, the new people of God.
And, if we look at the effectiveness of this idea that “going to church” more often makes you a better Christian, all we have to do is to look at a few statistics and we will quickly find out that it just didn’t work. Getting people to “go to church” more did not produce more disciples. According to a survey conducted by the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, 65% of those born before 1946 are born again, 35% of those born between 1946 and 1964 are born again, 15% of those born between 1965 and 1976 are born again, and just 4% of those born between 1976 and 1994 are born again. What this means is that we are not doing a very good job of passing down the faith. The generation that held most strongly to the idea of “going to church” and who raised their children that way were followed by a generation that did not embrace the faith.
We simply have to get past the basic idea that the more you “go to church,” the better of a Christian you are.
“Reveal,” a Self Study by Willow Creek
If you want to read an interesting study conducted by Willow Creek Community Church, then visit http://www.revealnow.com/storyPage.asp?pageID=12
Here are a few statements from their findings:
“When we began our research in 2004, we thought that we would find a direct link between church activities and spiritual growth. In other words, we thought our most mature, “sold-out” Christ-followers would also be the most involved in church activities—attending services, participating in small groups, volunteering, etc. We found that those who were the most active in the church did not necessarily report higher levels of spiritual attitudes (“love for God and others”) and spiritual behaviors (evangelism, tithing, etc.) than those who were less active….This led us to discovering a Spiritual Continuum centered on a relationship with Jesus Christ, which was much more predictive of spiritual growth.”
So, what does church look like when we stop “going to church” as much as possible? That’s for us to figure out together.