Kevin DeYoung writes this excellent post on “The Scandal of the Semi-Churched.” Every true believer should read and prayerfully consider these strong words of exhortation and edification.
The Scandal of the Semi-Churched
This is one of those posts I’ve wanted to write for awhile, but I wasn’t sure how to say what I think needs to be said. The danger of legalism and false guilt is very real. But so is the danger of disobedience and self-deception.
I want to talk about church members who attend their home church with great irregularity. These aren’t unchurched folks, or de-churched, or under-churched. They are semi-churched. They show up some of the time, but not every week. They are on again/off again, in and out, here on Sunday and gone for two. That’s the scandal of the semi-churched. In fact, Thom Rainer argues that the number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that church members don’t go to church as often as they used to.
We’ve had Christmas and Easter Christians for probably as long as we’ve had Christmas and Easter. Some people will always be intermittent with their church attendance. I’m not talking about nominal Christians who wander into church once or twice a year. I’m talking about people who went through the trouble of joining a church, like their church, have no particular beef with the church, and still only darken its doors once or twice a month. If there are churches with membership rolls much larger than their average Sunday attendance, they have either under-shepherds derelict in their duties, members faithless in theirs, or both.
I know we are the church and don’t go to church (blah, blah, blah), but being persnickety about our language doesn’t change the exhortation of Hebrews 10:25. We should not neglect to meet together, as some are in the habit of doing. Gathering every Lord’s Day with our church family is one of the pillars of mature Christianity.
So ask yourself a few questions.
1. Have you established church going as an inviolable habit in your family? You know how you wake up in the morning and think “maybe I’ll go on a run today” or “maybe I’ll make french toast this morning”? That’s not what church attendance should be like. It shouldn’t be an “if the mood feels right” proposition. I will always be thankful that my parents treated church attendance (morning and evening) as an immovable pattern. It wasn’t up for discussion. It wasn’t based on extenuating circumstances. It was never a maybe. We went to church. That’s what we did. That made the decision every Sunday a simple one, because their was no real decision. Except for desperate illness, we were going to show up. Giving your family the same kind of habit is a gift they won’t appreciate now, but will usually thank you for later.
2. Do you plan ahead on Saturday so you can make church a priority on Sunday? We are all busy people, so it can be hard to get to church, especially with a house full of kids. We will never make the most of our Sundays unless we prepare for them on Saturday. That likely means finishing homework, getting to bed on time, and foregoing some football. If church is an afterthought, you won’t think of it until after it’s too late.
3. Do you order your travel plans so as to minimize being gone from your church on Sunday? I don’t want to be legalistic with this question. I’ve traveled on Sunday before (though I try to avoid it). I take vacation and study leave and miss 8 or 9 Sundays at URC per year. I understand we live in a mobile culture. I understand people want to visit their kids and grandkids on the weekend (and boy am I thankful when ours come and visit). Gone are the days when people would be in town 50-52 weeks a year. Travel is too easy. Our families are too dispersed. But listen, this doesn’t mean we can’t make a real effort to be around on Sunday. You might want to take Friday off to go visit the kids so you can be back on Saturday night. You might want to think twice about investing in a second home that will draw you away from your church a dozen weekends every year. You might want to re-evaluate your assumption that Friday evening through Sunday evening are yours to do whatever you want wherever you want. It’s almost impossible to grow in love for your church and minister effectively in your church if you are regularly not there.
4. Are you willing to make sacrifices to gather with God’s people for worship every Sunday? “But you don’t expect me to cancel my plans for Saturday night, do you? I can’t possibly rearrange my work schedule. This job requires me to work every Sunday–I’d have to get a new job if I wanted to be regular at church. Sundays are my day to rewind. I won’t get all the yard work done if I go to church every week. My kids won’t be able to play soccer if we don’t go to Sunday games. If my homework is going to be done by Sunday, I won’t be able to chill out Friday night and all day Saturday. Surely God wouldn’t want me to sacrifice too much just so I can show up at church!” Not exactly the way of the cross, is it?
5. Have you considered that you may not be a Christian? Who knows how many people God saves “as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15). Does going to church every week make you a Christian? Absolutely not. Does missing church 35 Sundays a year make you a non-Christian? It does beg the question. God’s people love to be with God’s people. They love to sing praises. They love to feast at the Table. They love to be fed from the Scriptures. Infrequent church attendance–I mean not going anywhere at all–is a sign of immaturity at best and unbelief at worst. For whenever God calls people out of darkness he calls them into the church. If the Sunday worship service is the community of the redeemed, what does your weekly pattern suggest to God about where you truly belong?
Reading this was difficult for me. I was out of church for a long time as a result of being a part of a ministry that was teaching heresy from the pulpit. (It was under the guidance of Bethel Church in Redding and Bill Johnson. Need I say more.)
My parents had chosen that church but after we left, we were labeled as discord sowers and were leery to join anymore churches for a while despite missing being regular church goers.
My father was a pastor when I was growing up so church has always been a major part of my life but after he stopped pastoring, he never found it comfortable to be “under” another pastor. He felt the need to backseat drive, as it were and through this process our family was often ejected (rightfully) from ministries due to my father occasionally causing church splits.
Now, I’m attending (irregularly) a Baptist church in my area that a co-worker/friend attends. Our daughters are the same age and enjoy seeing one another and I do enjoy the teaching most Sundays (by enjoy, I mean I’m well fed by it) but I don’t feel this is a church I should join for several reasons and aside from that, my father has attended a few times and already told the pastor that he’s wrong not to encourage the congregation to speak it tongues, etc.
Sigh. I don’t live in an area with just tons of churches and the ones I do know of are very carnal, my kids would be better off not attending them, so it’s hard to read this. I want to have what this man talks about but I feel I would have to compromise in order to do it. That said, I don’t think it was his spirit to encourage faithful church going at the wrong kind of church so I suppose, I’ll just keep praying and seeking the Lord.
He’s faithful. He’ll lead us to the right place.
Excellent stuff from my favorite paedobaptist author 🙂
DeYoung is right – if we are born again, that doesn’t mean we are sinless but it does mean we are new creatures in Christ and will have an appetite for Him and His righteousness and a growing hatred (that’s right) for the sin that so easily entangles us.
And DeYoung nails some very good (biblical) arguments that ought to pierce us. Do we love the Word of God? Do we love the people Christ purchased with His blood? Some folks think we need a law (the Puritan view of the so-call “Christian Sabbath”) to get us to church on Sunday. But if the Spirit of the Living God, Who raised Christ from the dead, dwells in you and me, we will WANT to be with the saints, praising the Lord, learning about Him.
Ain’t no perfect church – in fact, more and more are full of heresy – but we need to find one that is solid on the gospel and be faithful.
Great reflection! What gets me hot under the collar is to see how some of those in full-time parachurch ministries treat their churches (assuming they truly are members of a local body) to the “leftovers” of their time and energy. I’ve been there, so I understand the temptation (e.g., “I’m DOING ministry all week, so I just want to chill” or “I’m getting my needs met through my ministry; if and when I go to church, I feel like I’m doing my duty and that’s all.”). Now that we are with another mission agency that allows us more flexibility with our time, Sunday morning, Sunday night (the BIG service in our culture; we hold a “Ministry of Evangelism for 90 minutes before this service with 5-10 people weekly) and Wednesday night have become routine in our family. We arrange our family and ministry schedule in such a way that those weekly meetings at church are priority. And we feel strange when we can’t be at them! The key is to make church a habit; that way you won’t miss out when God decides to speak specifically to you!
Just what was it the distroyed western civilization? Christless Christianity!
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Don’t mean to be sarcastic here, but did Thom Rainer really feel the need to state the obvious?
“In fact, Thom Rainer argues that the number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that church members don’t go to church as often as they used to.”
What other reason would be possible for declining church attendance? Duh.
I think steffiedotorg understands this problem. I have experienced similar problems from time to time over my years in Christ. When those in the pulpit go south, and they will not listen to correction, church attendance will suffer because Christ is no longer preeminent in the body of Christ. An exception to this seems to be the seeker churches. I believe they will continue to see record attendance as they continue to preach an apostate message of Christ.
I would rename the article to “The scandal of reformed churchianities self appointed leaders”. Here is a great comment from the Gospel Coalition article.
his argument has the same flaw as Kevin’s book, Why We Love The Church, namely that the positives of “going to church” (and the distinction between “going to church” and “being the church” is important in spite of clumsy efforts to brush it aside as being “persnickety”) can and are accomplished outside of formalized religious events where the church is by and large relegated to the role of spectator. The false dichotomy presented so often, either a) go to church every Sunday or b) never fellowship is ridiculous. There is a reason so many churches have small groups, namely that the church doesn’t get real fellowship sitting in pews staring at the back of the head of other church goers. Self-serving arguments like this smack of desperation as more and more Christians jettison the cultural religious traditions we inherited and modified from Rome. In spite of less than subtle threats like “if you don’t go to church as often and in the manner our culture demands you might not/probably aren’t saved”, the religious system is crumbling all around us. That doesn’t mean the actual church is crumbling. In many ways the church will be far more healthy when we jettison our event driven religious traditions that pit local churches against one another when competing for attenders (and givers of course). Those who have a vested interest won’t see that or admit it but it is true nevertheless.
There are some great comments by another brother named Mark on the original threads comments that really pull apart deyoungs misguided article with the word of God.