Hebrews 10:19-25 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
A Call to Persevere
19 Therefore, my friends,[a] since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
WISH YOU WERE HERE (JS) – Pastor Donna Doutt – 10-20-19 Hebrews 10:19-25
For any of you who follow the lectionary readings we provide for you each week in the bulletin, you’ll notice that I’m off lectionary this week. Here’s why…pure frustration.
When our Executive Team meets each month, we take a look at average attendance and offerings, and it is often demoralizing to see our numbers sliding down in both areas. But of course, that goes hand in hand. You can’t really have significant offering if there is not significant attendance.
Last week, we had 27 people at 8:30 service and 24 at this 11:00 service, and Faith on 68 had 40 total. Our overall attendance, year over year from 2018 is down approximately 10%. When our average membership on our roles is around 300, that means that last week just about 30% of our members attended church.
Which leads me to the question, “where have all the people gone?”
Now you’re probably thinking, “Here we go. Here comes the guilt trip.” But you’re wrong. I’m not putting a guilt trip on you who are sitting here today. That would be, as they say, “singing to the choir.” You’re here and we’re blessed in that. Unfortunately, this message is aimed towards those who are not here, the people that we WISH were here…the people I would like to have hear this message. So, please, stick with me. And we’ll work through this together.
I put out a little informal Facebook poll to find out why people either do or do not attend worship on a regular or semi-regular basis. Interestingly enough, only two people answered why they didn’t come.
One person said, “I am a member of my church, but don’t attend anymore. Our pastor isn’t relatable. Sermons put you to sleep and are always off track. I haven’t gone to church in 3 years, except for Christmas.” The other said, “I hope to get back to church soon.... but when waking up babies for a 9am service, they are energized and want to run and be free, not sit and listen therefore I would just end up sitting in the nursery with them.”
The really good, encouraging news, is that I got plenty of answers from those who do attend regularly. If you see yourself in this response, please put your hand up. I know you might put your hand up more than once, but I’d really like to know.
Here’s a few. Can you see yourself in any of these?
“Honestly there are times I just don’t want to go- BUT- it’s an hour! There is never an excuse good enough!!!! Thinking about every blessing leaves me no excuse I can come up with for not.”
“I recently changed churches.... I attend church because we are part of a body and need connection. But I think it is also true that people need to feel that they belong to something that is making a difference in the name of the one they come to worship.”
“I almost always attend, unless there is some reason I can't. I feel that I need to attend regularly to renew my faith. So many things happen that might pull you away if you allow it to happen. I get my strength thru God.”
“I feel lost all week if I don't go to church on Sunday!”
“It’s been instilled in me that Sundays are for church and family. I want my kids to know it’s important to have a church family, and seeing their parents involved in church too. We miss when we are sick but other than that it’s expected that we will go to church."
“I attend each Sunday. It is my way to hear of many who are in need of prayer, the more I pray for others the better I feel which helps me feel closer to our Lord and Savior.”
“I discovered through the years that it's all important... Both plugging-in (things through the week such as service, Bible study, prayer, private worship, etc.) and corporate worship is a part of holy rhythm. Being filled, and poured out, to be filled again...”
“My week isn't complete or off to a good start if I don't go to church.”
“I attend church because I feel a need to hear the message of how God is speaking to me through the Pastor message each week. I also attend so I can connect with other Christians who share the same faith as I do. These friendships encourage and help me when I am struggling.”
Here’s one I find particularly interesting. It’s from a pastor friend of mine. She writes, “Sundays are now filled with soccer practice, dance, baseball, football practice, scout activities. The rules are if you miss practice you can’t play or you can’t be in the performance. I’m not sure how it became acceptable to pit worship attendance with extracurricular activities, to penalize families who wish to practice their faith on a day that was once designated for worship and family time. And yet there are all these posts to bring “prayer back into schools”...
“I attend church because I need to hear the Pastor's message of how scripture relates to my life and in today's world. I need to hear about my church family so I can include them in my prayers all week long! The good and the bad. Praying for others makes me focus on others instead of dwelling on myself. It also allows me to help others in need!”
“I only miss church when sick or out if town.”
“I look forward to church every week and really only miss when I’m away. I need it to get through the week.”
I want to thank all of you who responded to this query. Some of you are in the room today.
Here’s something interesting. A Pew Research Center study offers some interesting data. A survey of 4,729 Americans telling us precisely why they do (or don't) attend religious services.
• To become closer to God. (81%)
• So their children will have a moral foundation. (69%)
• To become a better person. (68%)
• For comfort in times of trouble or sorrow. (66%)
• They find the sermons valuable. (59%)
• To be part of a faith community. (57%)
• To continue their family's religious traditions. (37%)
• They feel obligated to go. (31%)
• To meet new people or socialize. (19%)
• To please their family, spouse or partner. (16%)
But what about the other 2/3’s of our church family? We wish they were here!
Here’s what a study by the Pew Foundation discovered:
• They practice their faith in "other ways." (37%)
• They are not believers. (28%)
• No reason is "very important." (26%)
• They haven't found a house of worship they like. (23%)
• They don't like the sermons. (18%)
• They don't feel welcome. (14%)
• They don't have the time. (12%)
• Poor health or mobility. (9%)
• No house of worship in their area. (7%)
American pastors (and institutions}…have spent endless amounts of time trying to cater to the young families and the millennials' tastes, or at least what they perceive to be millennials' tastes: Coffee bars. Performance worship. Hip young clergy. Mission trips to exotic locales. But this study suggests that there is an under-served group of believers who seem like they'd actually like to go to religious services -- if only someone could help get them there and welcome them when they arrive.
My beloved friends, that’s where you come into the picture.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to you, but perhaps it does. Most people check out a church because they were invited. Statistics show that about 80% of people come to a church because someone invited them.
We all think our churches are super-friendly. But are they really? If 82% of guests say that being greeted by someone in the faith community is important, we better make sure we’re saying, “Good morning!” Think about it. Did you greet others as you came in this morning?
We’ve watched countless people disappear from this sanctuary. Granted, many of our beloved saints have passed on, 11 of them this year alone! But we hear others reasons as well.
• Our Administrative and Staff Parish Council’s work hard to give you what you ask for, yet there is no improvement in attendance.
• I heard that one family left because they didn’t want a woman pastor. That hurt my feelings, but I respect their decision. It is obviously something foundationally important to them.
• Some say, I don’t have time. There’s too much going on in my life.
• Some don’t like the sermons or the preaching style.
• Some might say, I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. But here’s how that works. When we surrender our lives to God, we should naturally want to learn more about Him, to be a part of the body of Christ, and most importantly to be held accountable. Scripture calls us to lead active faith.
• Some might just point blank say, “I just don’t want to go.”
• I’ve seen church-hoppers over my 30 years here at Faith. People want that “just right” perfect church, but when they can’t find it, they simply walk away. We should not be looking at what we can get from the church. Instead our hearts should be set on what we can give to the church.
• Do you think that those people that we wish were here just choose to sleep in on Sunday?
I try never to be a “fire and brimstone” style of preacher, but all Satan wants to do is distract you! He’s strategic! He will come to steal, kill and destroy your faith, your relationship with God, and the relationship with other believers. When a Christian is not attending church, they are leaving themselves open to the violation of Satan.
Friends, God is the focus of the church. Not the preacher. Not the music. Not the seat cushions, the ushers, what people are wearing, or the ritual of worship.
C.S. Lewis said, “The perfect church service would be the one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and think about worship is a different thing than worshiping. It is mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god.”
For you long-time and faithful attenders, I want you to think about this….take a look around you. Who USED to sit around you, that is no longer there? Have you wondered where they went, or why? Have you called them to say, “I miss you?” “You’ve been on my mind. How are you?” Or do you think that job needs to fall to someone else? As Disciples of Christ, as followers of Christ, we are called to be in connection with others.
Remember our scripture this morning: “24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
God is the focus of the church. The service…and certainly not the people…need to be perfect for you to hear His life-changing word. True life change happens in the church. It can happen in THIS sanctuary. We truly grow when we connect with every day people, pour into them, and allow them to pour into us.
In last Sunday’s Parade magazine in the Sunday paper, there was an interview with Katie Couric. When asked what her favorite Sunday activity was, she didn’t hesitate to say, “I like to go to church and be in a community of people who are taking an hour of their busy lives and thinking of something bigger than themselves.” That resonated with me.
IT’S ONE HOUR FOLKS! Most of us spend more than an hour a day on Facebook (unfortunately).
Thank you all who are here today for your faithfulness. But please think about this…reach out to someone this week…or next week, reach out to someone you know whether they’re former members, a neighbor, a co-worker or friend, and invite them to church.
Tell them, “I wish you were here because….”