School has started, the Patriots are playing games that count, and the leaves are beginning to change. Fall is here! And with it, for many churches, a new “program year” has begun. Sunday School resumes, service projects are underway, and regular worship schedules kick off. Summer can be a quiet time for churches in Wilbraham and Hampden. But with the return from vacation comes a return to worship.
If you’re a church-goer, you may have noticed that people attend church much less than they used to. Not only do fewer people attend religious services, but those who do attend do so less frequently. The trend is so striking that the Pew Research Center recently changed their definition of “regular church attendance” from “weekly” to “once a month.”
I know I’m pretty biased, but I strongly believe in attending worship weekly. Of course, this is part of my job—yet even on vacation I love attending worship. But why attend weekly, you might ask? The preacher is bound to have an off week once and a while; the music may get old; for many churches the readings are on a three year cycle, so sooner or later you’ve heard all the stories.
My favorite argument for attending worship comes from theologian David Lose. In his book Making Sense of the Christian Faith, Lose writes, “I suspect that some people think you should go to church to learn how to be a better person… And some people think you should go to church to make God happy. But I think we go to church because it’s hard to believe the promise of the gospel for more than about seven days in a row.”
As a preacher, sometimes I joke that I say essentially the same thing each and every week. Sure there are different facets and details, different stories, but the crux of the argument is the same: that though we have fallen short God has forgiven us in Jesus. That we have been claimed as beloved children of God, and promised eternal life. That we are then called to go out and share God’s love, through word and deed, with the world. That almost sounds too good to be true, so we have to hear it again and again. To be reminded of this good news.
But there are other reasons to attend worship regularly. A big one is community. We live in an increasingly cloistered and individualistic society. Attending a worship service forces you to be with other people—to sing and to pray together. And these are people that may be much different than you—different ages, ethnicities, life experiences—yet we all gather together.
Another blessing of worship is engaging ancient, embodied practices in an increasingly technologically distant and changing world. In worship we light candles and read stories, we sing songs and share a meal. Such ancient practices that, far from ordinary, help us to experience the extraordinary.
And perhaps most importantly, worship reminds us that it’s not all about me. In worship we turn away from selfish ambition and turn toward God. We ask for forgiveness where we’ve fallen short, we are fed and nourished for the journey of faith and life, and we are sent out into the world to be the people God created us to be. Worship reminds us who and whose we are.
One of my wonderful colleagues in town, Pastor Brian Tracy at Evangel Assembly, has a great thing he tells people about worship. “Don’t make 52 decisions about whether or not to go to church. Make one decision—‘I’m going to church this year.’” There is so much wisdom in these words. If you decide on a week-by-week basis whether or not to attend church, it’s easy to make excuses. But if you decide “this year I’m going to church,” you will no doubt be changed.
School has started, Wilbraham and Hampden are slowly coming back to life after our slow summer months. If you haven’t been to church in a while, or perhaps you attend sporadically, I encourage you: make a decision that this year you’re going to church. You will be amazed what happens when you give God an opportunity to transform your heart.
Published in September, 2017, in the Wilbraham-Hampden Times.