The author is Carey Nieuwhof. You can find out more about him here. He is a church leader, a blogger, a podcaster, and a high impact sort of guy. He is part of the greater evangelical/non-denominational movement. Read what he says. . .
The trend is practically universal: fewer people are attending church every year.
You might have even asked the question yourself. Why bother?
There are many reasons why that’s happening (I outline 10 here), but I think it’s increasingly evident that it no longer makes sense to attend church.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of the church. But I get why more and more people have simply stopped attending. Let me explain.
In the fall of 2015, I transitioned out of the lead pastor role at our church and into a Founding and Teaching Pastor role (Here’s a piece on why and how I did it). I still carry about 30 Sundays a year of teaching and work on some senior level projects, but that leaves me much freer than I’ve ever been on a Sunday morning. Sure, sometimes I host the service or have other roles, but more often than I’ve ever experienced before, I’m free on a Sunday. Which means I’m often an attender. So I feel what the culture is feeling more than ever before.
And on those Sundays when I have no official role, I’m plagued with the question “Why go to church?” After all, our church streams our services live online. I could literally watch live on any device I own anywhere. Plus we share the services on demand, so I could watch or listen any time during the week via our website or catch the message for free via podcast. If your church doesn’t have an online experience, no worries, about a million others do. You can access almost any church you want, anywhere, anytime. Free.
Which brings us back to the question: Why attend church?
Increasingly, I’m convinced there’s no point to merely attending. You drive all the way in to connect with three or four songs, hear the message and then head home. All of that you could almost do by yourself in a much more convenient way. Slip on Spotify and grab the message via podcast or on demand and boom, you’re covered.There is one other thing about him. He is right. Why go to church if all there is can be found accessible on the internet and watched in the privacy of your own home or listened to while driving to something more fun than church. Why bother? That is the question facing all those churches whose worship echoes the entertainment style of the day, whose message is a mirror of a positive gospel of self-discovery found almost anywhere, whose ethic gives cover to the sexual attraction du jour, and whose sacrament is technology itself. Why go to church?
A neighbor church had a satellite service that featured live music but a digital message (pastor on a screen). Eventually the people stopped coming because the live music was not enough to justify attending since the screen was the same as the one at home -- only bigger.
Lutherans tend to be rather envious of other churches and we seem to be self-deprecating to the point where we would exchange our identity for the identity of any other church if it appeared they might be more successful than we are. I am not certain why that is -- perhaps it is a weakness of seeming to be a via media between Rome and Zurich. I don't know. But the end result is that we tend to sacrifice the very things that make going to church necessary for the things that make many question why bother. In the face of a pop-Gospel style Christianity, we de-emphasize the sacramental presence of Christ in the Supper, the vocation born of baptismal gift which makes us the children of God, and the liturgical pattern of a life lived not as a loner before God but a people set apart by Him to live together the life of worship which is their purpose.
Apart from the God who comes to us in His flesh and blood in the Sacrament and the identity we have as the baptized people of God set apart together to live our life of worship, witness, prayer, and service -- why bother? It is this sacramental reality of the Word that is His voice and the Supper where He is host and food that is the reason why we gather. He beckons us not with the promise of feelings or reward but with His presence. Without this, all that is left to compel us to gather together in church is personal preference or desire -- neither of which is all that compelling in a world filled with other choices.
If Lutherans want folks to come to church, the answer lies not in marketing but in the means of grace. These bid us and in them we meet Christ. Apart from them, why would anyone go to church? We need to keep the focus on Christ, on the means of grace which deliver Christ to us. Then we will have a reason why folks should sacrifice comfort and choices and assemble on the Lord's Day, in the Lord's House...