What Would Help You Get to Church?: Old First E-pistle 04.07.16

We had a very nice turn out last week for the second session of our “Approaching the End of Life” series. That is gratifying. And the conversations are engaging, even, surprisingly, light-hearted: who would have thought we could have so much fun talking about death?

But something else occurred to me. I wondered how many people who were in the End of Life session, and worship before it, might not have made it that Sunday were it not for the class that day?

When we decided to hold the class on the first Sunday of the month, I realized that meant we’d hit the first Sunday after Easter, traditionally a low attendance week, hence — I think — it’s name: Low Sunday. I hoped that our class would counteract that. But, I admit, I wondered if our second session’s attendance might suffer…

I can now say that the date of the session had no adverse effect on people coming to the End of Life series. In fact, I’m pretty sure the session probably got some folks to worship who might not otherwise have been there. (I’m not asking you to convict yourselves, but if you fall in this latter category and you want to confess to me, I’d be interested!)

This is gotten me thinking. In our day, do we need to help ourselves with coming up with reasons to come to church? I mean, we all know how hard it is to get to the gym consistently, sticking to a diet, flossing your teeth daily, a prayer or meditation routine or even a reasonable bedtime… Interestingly, it’s hard to keep at some things even when we know they’re good for us (or because they are good for us?)!

Does worship fall in the same category? Does church need to think about ways it can give people the gentle boost they need?

In my time here at Old First, when we’ve been trying to think about how to serve more people, I’ve often thought that we need to better articulate our expected outcomes. People today often cannot easily imagine what difference church participation can make in their lives. We designed the website’s “Reasons People Come to OUR Church” to help us be clearer and more helpful.

But this time I am talking about something else. Giving those of us who have already made some commitment to being part of the faith community more of a reason to be present and participate more often. As I always promise, church is one of those “effort in, result out” economies: the more you put in, the more you will get out of it.

Why do we have to help ourselves — the ones who appreciate church — more reason to come?

Part of the issue is that we live in a time of extreme demand on our time, effort and attention. It’s hard to find down time and time for yourself. So, understandably, people sometimes make it where they can. Church is voluntary participation, and we sort of assume if we miss it this week, it will be there next week. That’s true, of course, but I might challenge us to realize that what we miss this week, we miss forever. Something else will happen at church next week…

I also wonder if sometimes we don’t revel in the minor rebellion of throwing off what is good for us? I know I shouldn’t have that cookie. I should turn off the t.v. and go to sleep. There’s a little emotional church — a sense of freedom — in acting against one’s own interests sometimes, just because one wants to. Missing church certainly isn’t akin to crucifixion, but maybe we skip to assert some independence or live risky?

I often admit when people apologize to me for irregular church attendance that “I think I went into the ministry so that I’d have to keep going to church. I can imagine — viscerally! — the lure and temptation of a quiet Sunday at home with bagels and the paper!”

Julie told me once that the band accomplished a number of ministry objectives. But one was that it often provided people who weren’t regular attendees with reasons to be in church a couple of times, for rehearsal and when they perform. It’s another reason to thank our choir members and for us to reach out to the musicians beyond our regular choir members.

And it’s also one of the reasons behind “Hospitality for all.” I wish we took our 8-week commitments to greet and help with fellowship hour a bit more seriously — it could also strengthen attendance. (Really, folks, if you are going to miss your Sunday, you might check with your team captain or switch with someone for another team!).

Jonathan V. told us in the Admin. SLG meeting last night, that though he understood the value for our community of getting people to make their contributions electronically (setting up regular bank checks), he chooses to use an old-fashioned check, because he needs to bring it to church.

Sometimes when parents find themselves empty-nesters, their attendance changes drastically. Is this just a reverse example — without their kids to get to church, it’s easy to sort of give oneself a vacation, and then fall out of the habit all together.

I have recently been paying telephone tag for over a week with someone who we only see in worship once a year or so. And when I picked up on the 5 or 6 volley, and he said, “Finally, I get to talk to you,” I laughed and said, “You know where to find me every Sunday; maybe it’d be easier to come and talk to me in person.”

I’m not writing to make anyone feel bad. Come when you want. Come when you can. Old First means to be present to people who decide for themselves how best to relate to the church community. But, noticing how many people drop in fairly irregularly, even infrequently, I’m just wishing to be realistic. And to admit that for most of us, with all the demands on our lives, it’s hard to get here every Sunday… even when we know and remember that’s how we’re going to get the most out of church.

So, let’s think about how we can help ourselves and one another, by giving ourselves extra reasons to come.

~ A call during the week to check on someone.
~ An invitation because something special is happening in worship.
~ Scheduling doing something together after church.
~ Scheduling meetings or fellowship activities before or after worship.

Likewise, church itself might want to think about how to offer extra reasons to make it more often… What would help you get to church?

See you there,

Michael