Often in January, churches celebrate a “covenant renewal” service on Baptism of the Lord Sunday. As we have marked this occasion with the Wesleyan covenant renewal service in years past, we’ll do so again on Sunday, January 12. Anticipating that occasion along with some polls that came out recently have my mind on our membership vows. We commit to support the church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. All of these are the “rubber meets the road” aspect of the baptismal covenant to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin,” “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves,” and “confess Jesus Christ as your savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord in union with the church, which Christ has opened to all ages, nations, and races.” I’m pleased to say I see fruit in our church’s expression of the baptismal vows and membership vows.
We pray each week for concerns and joys in our own circles of family and friends as well as national and global concerns. We have a church member who has made it her ministry to reach out to people we’ve brought up in prayer and send a card on behalf of the church. I have heard many occasions where these people have been touched that the church has remembered them in prayer. We have reported on the tremendous response to our pledge campaign and the gifts that have enabled us to balance our budget. I have been impressed with how church members have responded to occasions to be of service and witness to the community around us, and we remain ever vigilant to tend our lamp to continue to be a beacon of love and light in our community. With all of those areas in “good working order,” I recommend we turn our attention to the membership vow of “presence.”
A Pew Research study came out in October 2019 that stated the fact that the decline of American Christianity is happening faster than expected. https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/ “65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade. Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009.” Along with that study, there is also a declining concept of what constitutes “regular church attendance” among those who DO identify as Christians.
From that same article, “The data shows that just like rates of religious affiliation, rates of religious attendance are declining. Over the last decade, the share of Americans who say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month dropped by 7 percentage points, while the share who say they attend religious services less often (if at all) has risen by the same degree. In 2009, regular worship attenders (those who attend religious services at least once or twice a month) outnumbered those who attend services only occasionally or not at all by a 52%-to-47% margin. Today those figures are reversed; more Americans now say they attend religious services a few times a year or less (54%) than say they attend at least monthly (45%)”
Do you notice that the pollsters count “regular church attendance” now as “once a month?” I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider myself a “regular” at the gym if I go once a month. I don’t consider Madden being a “regular” at cub scouts if he goes once a month. Would we consider ourselves a part of a team if we made one football game out of four? The findings of the study are troubling enough, but I’m also troubled by the parameters of the study itself. Less people are attending church at all, and those who do attend are attending less often than ever before.
I’ve learned the value of “presence” over the years. Sometimes, just “showing up” has a value in and of itself. Being there for people as they’re going through something speaks volumes. The church is a fellowship at its most basic identity. It is a group of people “being there” for one another. Doesn’t it feel good to show up to worship and see the people you’ve been missing? The hospitality we show and receive can put wind in our sails for the week ahead. However, it doesn’t happen if you’re not here to make it happen. Our average church attendance has gone down over the years I’ve served this church. At the end of 2019, a generous averaging (including special services in the average with our weekly worship) puts our attendance at 93 people a week. If you’re here regularly, that number probably sounds high to you, so without the “special services” factored in, our average is more like 87. I’d like to see us improve in the area of “presence” like we have in the other membership vows. If you feel like this “pastor’s perspective” is “aimed at you,” well, it probably is! We NEED you to be among us REGULARLY in worship. I don’t consider “once a month” to be “regular attendance” in any other facet of my life, so why would I accept that parameter for my worship life? We can be a stronger beacon of love and grace if we actually have people in the pews to convey that love and grace to the person who happens in to church some Sunday and needs to find a place of hope and renewal.
Will you help improve our overall statistic of “presence” in the new year? We need you here!