Is it possible to become a church addict? Now I know “addict” and “church” sounds like an oxymoron. For a minister to pose the question may even sound heretical to some. After all, there’s a certain amount of pressure placed on ministers to put people in the pews. That’s especially true in a day when many churches have plenty of room in the pews on Sunday mornings.
Fewer and fewer Americans are attending church. According to a recent study by Indiana University, more than 40 percent of Americans attended weekly religious services a generation ago, but that figure has shrunk by about 25 percent.
In an effort to boost the numbers, larger churches hire competent leaders to run programs that attract members. These churches will have a buffet of programs: a
children’s program, a youth program, a young adult program, a recreation program, a choir program, a senior adult program, and the list goes on.
These programs fill up the church calendar. There’s something happening at the church every single night. Some see this as a good thing. “The building shouldn’t sit idle,” they say. Unfortunately, ministers often begin competing for the same members for their respective programs. Some churches, not big enough to hire staff, still try to have the programs but use the laity to run them. In these instances, some of the laity become overcommitted and burn out on working in the church.
Some people become churchaholics, going to four and sometimes five meetings a week for church-related events. Some feel compelled to do this. Others feel it’s their calling. Some serve or attend out of guilt. Some will do so while neglecting other areas of life. Perhaps some attend this many church functions but still find they are living a balanced life. Everyone is different. If you attend this many church meetings, I’m not saying you are doing something wrong. I am saying that some people do confuse all these meetings with living the Christian life.
Some Christians confuse attending church with being the Christian that Christ called us to be. Worship, fellowship and discipleship are all vital. Our Christian journeys need gatherings with other Christians for accountability, encouragement, inspiration and the sharing of gifts. But it seems that some Christians attend church meetings disproportionately to the amount of time that’s actually spent serving others – you know, being the church.
Studying about missions is different from doing missions. Hearing a sermon about doing for “the least of these” is different from doing for the least of these. Talking about evangelism is different from doing evangelism. Many have become keepers of the aquarium instead of fishers of men. Dropping money in the offering plate to send people to Africa or the Middle East is different from interacting with and ministering to someone of another race or culture in your own community.
There are some people who will not miss a church event. If the lights are on, they will be there. If the lights are off, they might still show up. If someone suggests that a service be called off for any reason, they might have church withdrawal symptoms. However, some of these same people would hardly object to the injustices being done to the poor of the community and wouldn’t take the time to attend a meeting downtown to protest on their behalf. When those who lead programs make suggestions that the church actually leave the building to do ministry, why is it so difficult to fill those slots of service? It’s the one time churchaholics seem to have a hangover.
What if churches had this rule: “For every hour you spend at the church house, you must spend one hour in the community ministering to the poor, taking care of the needy, attending to the least of these.”? What kind of reputation would Christians have? Would it be different? Would our credibility go up or down? Would others follow us to the church house or would our actions point them away?
If we lived like this, it wouldn’t matter so much how many church services we attended. Instead of being addicted to attending church services, it would be more obvious that we are really committed to serving Jesus. People would see that church makes a difference in how we live. That’s why James wrote: “Faith without works is dead.” James 2:20 (KJV). That is the balance we need. If we had more of a balance, more people would follow us to church.
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. He has written a weekly column for The Moultrie Observer since 2000.