It seems that church attendance has always been a dicey issue. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, in his admonitions on kingdom living as a community of faith, reminds his audience that they should “not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some.” This should come as good news to 21st century church leaders who feels disheartened by changing habits of church attendance. Well, maybe not good news, but certainly it is comforting to know that the struggle is real and has been ongoing since the very beginning.
There has been an increasing trend over the past decade or so in which the definition of “regular church attendance” has changed from roughly 3 times a month to maybe once every 3 weeks. While there are increasing numbers of people who have left church all together, the reality is that some of the decrease in Average Sunday Attendance simply comes members attending church less frequently. It seems neglecting to get together has become the habit of more than some.
Church canons have little impact these days. Unfortunately, they are routinely ignored by clergy and laity alike, but I wonder what would happen if we started to take Canon I.17.3 seriously? In that Canon, the term Communicant in Good Standing is defined as “All communicants of this Church who for the previous year have been faithful in corporate worship, unless for good cause prevented, and have been faithful in working, praying, and giving for the spread of the Kingdom of God, are to be considered communicants in good standing.”
What if “good cause” was the only thing that prevented us from attending church? What if those who are committed to the life and ministry of their local congregation (as many of the once every three week crowd really are) returned to the habit of regular attendance at worship? There is power in getting together to worship God. That’s why the author of the Letter to the Hebrews recommends it. That’s why our Canons define “good standing” that way. When we gather together to worship God, to sing praises, to hear the word proclaimed, to offer prayers, and to break bread, we are changed – each of us individually as well as all of us corporately. And every time we are changed more into the likeness of Christ, the world is changed more into the likeness of the Kingdom of Heaven. Church attendance habits matter because the Kingdom of God matters. Let’s not neglect to get together.