The Deliberate Sin of Irregular Church Attendance
Dear New Hope,
A 2017 study by George Barna revealed the top de-churched cities in America. Surprisingly, in the top 20 de-churched regions, the Traverse City/Cadillac area is #14 on the national list. This means that, per capita, our region is largely comprised of people who have abandoned the regular meeting together in the local church. This type of behavior is not just careless, it is a bad and voluntarily sinful habit.
The writer of Hebrews issues a clear word regarding the importance of regular, systematic gathering of believers in the local church:
“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. For if we go on sinning deliberately…” (Heb. 10:24-26)
This is God’s Word to the church. It has several key components:
- A positive command. We are commanded to “stir up” one another. That is, we should provoke and incite people to do good. This can only happen when we are in regular contact with others, which is why weekly connection is so critical. Without regular contact, we drift in both love and good works.
- A negative command. We are commanded to not neglect meeting together with the local church. To neglect literally means to “abandon, leave behind in some place, or forsake.” In December, we bought a $60 sweatshirt for our son while on vacation. The next day Kyle wore the sweatshirt to a restaurant and left it behind, never to be seen again. It aggravated us as parents because of Kyle’s regular habit of leaving valuable things behind. This is how people can treat involvement and attendance in the church. Somewhere along the way, they have left it behind and neglected it, as if it doesn’t matter.
- A sad reality. During the days of the writing of Hebrews, it was common enough for people to neglect the regular gathering of the church, causing it to be addressed as what has become “the habit of some.” In other words, the people of God were prone to being de-churched. My friends, what was “the habit of some” then, has become an epidemic in our day.In a recent book by Thom Rainer called The Big Shift, he addresses the great shift in church attendance among those who claim to be faithful and regular. On average, those who are viewed as faithful attendees used to attend 3-4 times per month. Now the average attendance of your most committed Christians is less than 2 times per month. So, in the course of a year, faithful church attendees are missing as many as 26 weekly gatherings. As for those who are more peripheral, it is common for many believers to only attend once every two months. This means that a large number of believers are only attending 6-8 times per year. This is a sad, awful reality.
- A deliberate sin. Hebrews describes this type of habit as “sinning deliberately.” Notably, the word for “deliberate” means “voluntarily.” In other words, the people who forsake the regular assembly of the saints are voluntarily and willingly practicing a habit that is sinful. Some will debate or argue on this point. But let me say with conviction and certainty: believers who are not regular and consistent in the gathering together with fellowship in the local church are sinning deliberately and voluntarily.
Some Things are Just Wrong
There are some things that are just wrong. Let’s consider a few humorous examples.
- Neglecting washing hands. In an article called “Grungy and Unkempt: America’s grooming Crisis,” Joe Queenan identifies massive problems of hygiene in our country. One study revealed that “Americans wash their hands incorrectly a staggering 97% of the time.” That’s just gross. Not only that, but Queenan goes on to write, “We have an incredibly hard time blowing our noses with any degree of competence. Toothpicks routinely cause serious injuries…and no one in this country seems to know how to hitch up their pants.” All humorous examples, but when it comes to the regular commitment of the local church, we have a massive spiritual hygiene problem.
- Brushing teeth in the shower. In an article called “Brushing Teeth in the Shower – OK or Gross?” Patrick Thomas reports on a hygiene issue that some call sickening and disgusting. According to recent studies, 4% of Americans enjoy the morning habit of brushing teeth in the shower. This begs the question: where do you put the brush when you’re done? Although 4% find this an acceptable habit, it doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. The same is true of the spiritual hygiene of the massive percentages who have forsaken regular assembly. Just because the majority of people have formed a bad habit does not mean that it is healthy.
- Parents who floss. No, not the floss the dentists hand out. We are talking about a dance called The Floss. Janna Sugden wrote an article on The Floss called “Parents Bust a Move and Children Say: Please Stop.” She describes the floss as a dance “that involves swinging your hips one direction and your arms the other with increasing speed.” It’s adorable when children do the floss. But when parents try to imitate the dance, it is just plain wrong. Children who witnessed the cataclysmic failure of parents doing the floss used words like: “cringing and embarrassing.” One son told his mom, “sit down.” A 10-year-old daughter named Ella told her mom, “stop that, it looks kind of disturbing.” A 21-year-old son was so appalled at his mom doing the floss he said, “I can’t even describe what I was witnessing.” Let’s face it, there are some things that are just cringing and embarrassing. And when it comes to the deliberate and sinful habit of mediocrity with church commitment in the Northern Michigan region, it is simply embarrassing.
Church Attendance: Optional or Intentional
When my son was younger, there were many things Kyle treated as optional, such as brushing his teeth, wearing underwear, and putting deodorant on. No matter what motivation we gave, Kyle would fail to do all three of these. Then the remarkable happened! As Kyle aged, his bad breath, smelly armpits and uncomfortable nature of shorts without underwear actually bothered him. Kyle, on his own accord, began to care about hygiene and, nowadays, is even wearing underwear on rare occasions.
Many in the local church are equally careless with church commitment. They view regular church attendance the way Kyle viewed underwear: take it or leave it. My friends, Scripture describes this approach to the local church as sinning deliberately and voluntarily. We must receive correction and allow God’s word to change our habits.
Stop Dating the Church and Start Going to Church
Years ago, Joshua Harris wrote a book called Stop Dating the Church!: Fall in Love with the Family of God. It addresses believers who attend church on Sunday and live the rest of the week like church doesn’t matter.
Perhaps we need a new book that addresses a much bigger issue. Maybe we need a book called: Start Going to Church: Stop Deliberately Sinning. Maybe the action steps would be:
- Prioritize weekly assembly as a non-negotiable part of your week.
- Realign Sunday commitments by putting the assembly with saints to the top.
- Resist a vacation mindset. In Northern Michigan, we are immersed in “Vacationland” where we often put leisure over worship. In our eyes, we are rich. In God’s eyes, we are poor, naked, pitiful, and blind.
- Repent of sinning deliberately in the area of gathering regularly and consistently with believers.
- Develop a scorecard. Out of 52 weekly gatherings, how many Sundays would you think is acceptable to skip? Ask the Lord: “Lord, how many Sundays can I skip and just do my own thing?”
Some things are just wrong. Not washing hands. Brushing teeth in the shower. Parents who try to do The Floss dance. Kids not wearing underwear. And, add to that list, the carelessness with which many treat church fellowship.
God’s Word commands us to stop sinning deliberately in this area. I encourage you, brothers and sisters, to get out of vacation mode and prioritize the regular assembly in God’s house with God’s people.
You are loved,