There have been times, mostly in summer, that we have considered putting a sign that says "Canceled Due To Lack Of Interest" on our church doors on a Sunday morning. Of course, we don't because that would only hurt the faithful. When your husband gets up to preach, looks out at the crowd, and is confused about whether it is Sunday morning or a small group meeting, something is wrong. When he has sacrificed time with family and having a better paying job to seek the Lord and wrestled in prayer for a message, finally getting a message He knows is God's heart for his congregation and hardly anyone shows up to hear it....well, it's just frustrating and discouraging and it makes a Pastor question if it's worth it. I know the subject has come up in our household more than once.
After awhile you get the idea that people are just using you as an avenue for religious activity that placates some spiritual void and as a place to pay their tithes so they can remain under the blessing spout of God which not only discourages you, but makes you sad as well. A non-technical study was done by a group of Pastors. They took a Sunday and positioned people outside the building immediately following the service. As people exited, they ask them questions like "what was the sermon about today or what one thing stuck with you from the sermon this morning?" and a very low percentage of them could answer. Of course, at least you have to give them credit for showing up-I guess but it honestly makes you wonder how effective you really are and if they wouldn't be better off with someone else that could engage them more. Of course, ultimately it's a question of how engaged with the Holy Spirit they truly are in a daily kind of way that engages them on Sunday anyway. That's a whole other concern.
From the day I got saved, I was in church every Sunday barring illness. If we wanted to travel and visit family, we went on Saturday. If it required extra time, we took off some time from work on Friday to leave early. Yes, our family visits were limited. Yes, sometimes we drove into the night with our children sleeping in their car seats. Yes, we missed family reunions, birthday parties, and other opportunities. But, in hindsight I realize that it was worth it. Our children learned a very important lesson. And we never missed out on what the Spirit of God had for us. Every effort was made to be in our local house of worship on Sunday morning. We planned our weekend around church because church was the highlight of our weekend. When we signed our kids up for sports, we made sure that the coaches knew that they would not attend Sunday games or practices if they interfered with local church attendance. Now it seems that people plan their church attendance around the weekend. They have the goofy idea that as long as they are in church somewhere then all is well. They don't realize how self-serving that is while their absence from their local body leaves their spiritual gifting absent as well. They see no harm in leaving what they refer to as their "church family" to spend time with blood relations but will be quick to tell you that church family comes first although their lifestyle does not portray that sentiment. For small churches, holidays are the worst! Christmas and Easter, the church's high holidays of the year are spent with blood relations or at larger churches with special programming at the expense of spiritual relations, yet they will always claim that spiritual family trumps blood relations. Your church family is who you are engaged with in Kingdom work and who will be your family in eternity. The importance of church attendance may not be lost with some but the importance of LOCAL church attendance is.
I'm not begrudging anyone vacation or times when you just need to be away on a Sunday, but when you are absent once a month or more, it's cause for concern. A shout out goes to those who actually say "Pastor, I won't be here next week because of such and such", even when the such and such is a lame excuse. I dare say that if they gave that excuse to their bosses about missing work they would not be employed very long. How can a company establish vision, protocol, and procedure if attendance is sporadic? How can anyone cast vision, establish protocol and tend to a group of people they don't see on a regular basis? And why is it that on the Sundays when the Lord did specifically have someone in mind, it's always the Sunday that they are missing? And why doesn't it bother them that they missed what their shepherd, the one they say God has placed in their lives, had to say?
All of us in ministry have heard..."well that's required of you because you're the Pastor! You are held to a higher set of standards than the rest of us." We know that is not true. Teachers of the Word will be held accountable for what they teach and how it affects others for Christ, but ALL believers live by the same set of standards because we all became believers the same way and we are all subject to the same Holy Spirit. We are ALL to love the Lord with all our heart, mind and strength and to put Him FIRST in ALL things. It concerns me when parishioners think there are sub-categories of Christians or that they can remain carnal Christians until they die or Jesus returns. It doesn't work that way, and if they were in their church every Sunday, they would know this because I'm sure the Lord would lay it on the Pastor's heart.
It usually starts innocently. They miss once for this or that ignoring their nagging conscience because they just can't see any way around it. Pretty soon there is no conscience. Work, sports, family parties, and vacations all include a Sunday morning where church is missed or a different church is attended. I'm not saying that is bad all the time, but it is far too easy to justify your absence by being able to say that you attended church somewhere. Remember, Pastors sacrifice to be in the pulpit every Sunday, sometimes way more than anyone realizes, and it's not because it's their "job." If ministers looked at the ministry as their "job", believe me, they would be looking for another type of work in most cases.
It's been said, "Don't worry about small beginnings", but when small happens after large has already been established, be concerned. Helping to create a small meeting is not a good excuse to miss church! If you feel that you won't be missing much, then you'd better start examining your personal walk with the Lord. If church is not "happening", it's usually not the Pastor's fault. In a self-serving culture such as ours, sacrifice for church attendance is nearly unheard of and touted as "religious-and therefore bad." Churches have Friday services, Saturday services, and multiple services on Sundays just so they can get them all in at some point on the weekend. We might as well be Catholic for all the purpose that it serves the working of the Body of Christ in a local setting. Put the gathering of the saints back where it belongs in life--as the highlight of your week. The spiritual benefits will far outweigh any sacrifices that will be made.