What If My Spiritual Gift is Faithfully Attending?
Have we diminished the spiritual gift of faithful church attendance? Maybe we haven't even considered “just attending“ church as a spiritual gift. Some churches even speak of "attending one" and "serving at one" as though attending is, well, just attending. It feels like we have undervalued (most likely, unintentionally) believers in our churches who are present nearly every Sunday throughout the year if they aren't doing something else in the church. As church leaders, do we give the impression to our people that we are more interested in the amount of attendees at church on Sunday than we are about the amount of an attendee's attendance with the church throughout the year? We should check ourselves, pastors. Would we be more jazzed about posting a new Sunday attendance record or discovering from our church clerk that a believer in our church had perfect attendance for 52 Lord's Days for the year? There's a significant difference between the two. It very well could be the difference between counting bodies and nurturing disciples. On the heels of Easter Sunday, a day on which many of our churches set attendance records, (perhaps it's a blessing if we didn't) it's a good moment for us to assess what exactly we are chasing.
"Would we be more jazzed about posting a new Sunday attendance record or discovering from our church clerk that a believer in our church had perfect attendance for 52 Lord's Days for the year?"
Church Growth 101 Dogma: Successful churches are seeing significant increases in their budgets, buildings and bodies.
It's no surprise that numerical growth is the most popular (almost exclusive) analytic in evaluating successful churches today. When I meet another pastor at a conference or over a meal, I have come to dread the question that nearly always comes up-"how many are you running on Sunday?" Is this a Biblical analytic? Should we be going after more bodies or should we be going after more faithful "bricks"? Peter said that believers are "like living stones that are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (I Peter 2:5) Acts 2:42 describes the newly, Spirit-animated church as being devoted to the apostles doctrine, prayers, fellowship, etc. The word translated devoted means "dedicated, committed persistent and focused." It was used of boats that were anchored (Mark 3:9) and soldiers who stood at attention and were ready. (Acts 10:7). In the context, Holy Spirit has just indwelled believers at Pentecost. Therefore, this devotion that characterized the vintage church is properly characterized as a spiritual gift.
So the kind of devotion that causes a believer to be present with the people of God, Sunday-after-Sunday, is a spiritual gift that we should value more than we do.
By faithful attendance, I am thinking of that single lady that arrives fifteen minutes early, for the early service, every Sunday. She sings vibrantly, prays reverently and listens intently. And I am thinking of the family with six kids, under the age of 13, who has the uncanny ability of arriving exactly 3 minutes after the second service has started, every Sunday. I can’t fail to mention the senior couple who sits in the exact same spot, in the exact same pew, at the exact same time every Sunday. In fact, their attendance is so dependable, we will make a checkup call to them on Sunday afternoon if they miss a Lord’s Day. These faithful attendees impart a spiritual gift to our church, every Sunday.
It's the very presence of Christ that we enjoy when the church gathers (I Corinthians 10:16; Matthew 18:20) So faithful attendance with the church is better than some spiritual activities that we tend to honor more.
Faithful attendance by a non-member is better than a church member who rarely attends. I believe the Scriptures assume membership in a local church. Church membership provides clarity about who is in the church and who is out. Another benefit of church membership is it identifies the sheep that a group of elders are responsible to watch over. And, taking church membership seriously helps believers know what spiritual leaders they are responsible to follow. So, church membership is good. I believe it is Biblical. But faithfully attending is better. (Both are best!) Believers who are not official members but who rarely miss attending on Sunday, are building-up the church more than "card-carrying church members" who are irregular in their attendance.
Faithful attendance on Sunday is better than serving on Sunday. I fear we have gotten this backwards. We all want people to serve. Not a bad thing. But perhaps our emphases upon serving, volunteering and using one's spiritual gifts on Sunday has replaced the more important need of being present at the Lord's Day gathering. Have we substituted the Scriptures' stress upon gathering with a focus upon doing? Do we present serving on Lord's Day (in any capacity) as a sort-of, next-level-step in spiritual growth? If we do, then simple, faithful, attendance to church each Sunday can be viewed as a beginner's phase, entry level, activity.
"...doing has become a spiritual gift that is more prized than gathering. Participation in ministry activities is celebrated above being present in worship."
In a "busyness is godliness" church culture, volunteers may miss gathered worship for weeks, or even months. The reason is because doing has become a spiritual gift that is more prized than gathering. Participation in ministry activities is celebrated above being present in worship.
Faithful attendance on Sunday is better than giving money to the church. I have heard it over a dozen times in two decades of pastoral ministry. You inquire with a brother or sister about why you haven't seen them at church in weeks or months and the reply goes something like this, "don't worry, we've been busy, but I've been sending in my offering each week." To which I feel like shouting in response, "we don't want your money, we want you!" Being present with the church is eternally better than giving money to the church.
"There is a kind of gathering with the church that comes with strings attached. It can be mistaken for faithful church attendance. It’s a counterfeit. The fine print may not be obvious at first, but some believers base regular attendance on conditions."
As a sort of "bonus" point, faithful attendance on Sunday is better than quid-pro-quo attendance. There is a kind of gathering with the church that comes with strings attached. It can be mistaken for faithful church attendance. It’s a counterfeit. The fine print may not be obvious at first, but some believers base regular attendance on conditions. Those conditions can vary from expecting certain topics to be emphasized in the preaching and teaching ministry, insisting that they participate in decision-making, looking to have their spiritual gifts employed in the church as they wish them to be, or believing that certain traditions in the church must be maintained unless they are individually consulted. This is not the spiritual gift of faithful attendance. This is manipulation, and self-promotion. "I will scratch your back if you scratch mine." Don't be fooled. (III John 9)
Here are a few check-ups:
Do you see Sunday-after-Sunday, week-by-week, church attendance as a spiritual gift? How would your attendance change if your attitude changed?
Do the quick math. How many Sunday worship gatherings do you attend on average of the 52 opportunities? Subtract how many Lord's Days worship gatherings you miss on average for vacation, sports, business travel, serving in other places in the church, get-aways, sickness, etc. What is that number? This may be a painful exercise, but you can't improve if you don't know the number.
Have we "despised the day of small things" (Zechariah 4:10) when it comes to faithful church attendance? How much value do you place on sitting in that same pew (or chair) week-after-week, singing-out, hearing the Bible read, praying together, opening the Scriptures and "like a Berean" (Acts 17:11) listening to the Word, and participating in the Lord's Supper?
Are we increasing the value on "just attending church" as we see the Day drawing near? (Hebrews 10:25)
Brothers and sisters, please consider seriously imparting a spiritual gift to your other brothers and sisters this coming Sunday by "just attending." See you there!