Churches in America are shrinking. Well, let’s be honest, most of them are dying altogether. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Over the last decade, countless pollsters have tragically reported that the vast majority of Americans — particularly those who consider themselves to be ‘Christians’ — are fleeing organized religion faster than a herd of wildebeests on the run from a pack of African lions. Although they still profess to believe in God and accept basic biblical values, many are avoiding actual church attendance — to the tune of 22 percent as recent as 2014, up from 6 percent in 1992. Among Millennials, this number has spiked to 35 percent, which certainly isn’t a shock coming from the same generation that can’t even commit to relationships, marriage or a Netflix subscription, much less a functioning church body. (And I say that as a millennial myself.)
Sure, there are still plenty of megachurches that more resemble sold-out football stadiums than houses of worship, but the reality remains that less than 20 percent of the people in this country don’t even roll out of their beds on Sunday morning to stumble through the doors of a local sanctuary.
So, why do we even still refer to America as a “Christian nation” when the empty pews, broken fellowship and widespread cultural decay suggest otherwise? And, more importantly, why are so many self-professing believers convinced that they don’t need to be in a church? What sort of excuses are they conjuring up and are those excuses even legitimate, believable and acceptable?
You might be surprised — or perhaps you might not — to know that I have a theory. As a pastor’s kid, I’ve practically grown up “in the pew.” And it wasn’t because I was dragged there kicking and screaming against my will. It’s because my parents raised me to understand that fellowshipping with other believers, singing worship songs to God and sitting under sound scriptural teaching was biblical and right. It didn’t matter how I “felt.” It mattered that this was the correct, moral, virtuous and proper thing to do.
But, in our modern emotion-based society, feelings reign supreme — to the point that a man who “feels” like he’s a woman can stand up on 5th Avenue with a megaphone and declare himself to be one and everybody must recognize it as true or risk suffering the wrath of the eternally outraged and offended; even to the point that a five-year-old child who says he feels like being the opposite gender can now have his wish magically granted by the Sex Change Fairy Godmother.
So if you can “feel” like being a man, a woman, a non-binary unicorn or a Blue-Ringed Octopus and make it your reality, why not “feel” like avoiding church and make that legitimate too?
Anyway, I think that for many of the detached Christians who know that they should be in church, the excuses are pretty pathetic. This was only further reenforced and confirmed when many of you chimed in on an informal poll that I issued on my official Facebook page the other day. Here's a look at some of the excuses we've apparently seen and heard from fellow believers:
I overslept. I was too tired. Sunday is my only day off from work. Sunday is our “family day.” Church is boring. The music isn’t really my style. I don’t like all the lights and media. I don’t want to drive that far today. I don’t “need” to be there. Me and God have “an understanding.” The sermons don’t make sense. I don't have anything to wear. The pews are too stiff. I connect better with God when I’m alone at home. I can catch the sermon audio online later. I’ve got my life together so I’ll be fine without church.
These are just a few of the ridiculous rationalizations that we rattle off in a desperate attempt to justify forsaking the assembling of ourselves together — precisely what God told us not to do. And, especially when held against the explanations of the elderly who are too feeble or sick to make it to the service, or the widow whose car wouldn’t start, our excuses seem pretty lame and insignificant. And they are. In fact, our excuses often become outright inexcusable.
For crying out loud, church isn’t some sort of social gathering that we only attend whenever it happens to feel “right” or “comfortable” or “convenient.” Church isn’t supposed to cater to our preferred tastes, wants and desires. Who do you think you are? Who do you think the focus of a Sunday service should be centered on? (Hint: the focus should be on Jesus, not you.)
You’re upset because the worship band didn’t play the kind of songs you like? You’re peeved because the service starts at 11:00 in the morning and you made the choice to stay up until 6:00 A.M. binge-watching two seasons of “The Walking Dead”? You think that you’re the one special Christian who’s excluded from the command in Hebrews 10:25? You’re annoyed because the pastor’s sermon made you uncomfortable the last time you were there?
No, just stop. Stop with all of the excuses.
For centuries, countless Christians have risked life and limb — persecution, torture, exile and death — in order to assemble themselves together on hillsides and mountaintops, in caves, huts, taverns, tents, and underground tunnels so that they could worship God and study His Word on a regular basis. Just because the Apostles and saints of old didn’t have padded pews, plexiglass pulpits, electric guitars and fancy lighting doesn’t mean that they didn’t have corporate services. I’m no expert on ancient church history, but I feel fairly confident in saying that these saints wouldn’t have had freshly brewed Starbuck’s coffee in the Welcome Center or potluck dinners following the sermon either. But, somehow they still managed to have church. Real, authentic, Christ-centered church.
Speaking of Christ, there are plenty of times in the New Testament when Jesus went into the synagogue (Mark 1:21, Luke 2:41-52) to teach, to pray and to fellowship with his Apostles and those believers who were following Him. (Of course, there was also that one time when He had to enter the temple to drive out the money changers who had turned church into something it was never meant to be — Matthew 21:12-17.) Do we really see ourselves as being so much better than Jesus Himself that we don’t even need to darken the doors of a local church and meet together with other Christians? Should we not follow His example?
The answer, of course, is that we undoubtedly should. The very definition of being a genuine Christian — a “Christ-follower” — is found in following our Lord’s example.
It is not found in making excuses.