Regular church attendance must always be the beginning of Christian responsibility but never the end of it.
By Skylar Spradlin
At what point does someone qualify as a regular church attendee? A recent Lifeway Research study found answers vary. Pastors are most likely to say attending church twice a month qualifies as being regular (30%). Others say attending once a month makes someone a regular churchgoer (24%). Perhaps most intriguing, older pastors are most inclined to have a higher standard for defining a regular attendee, saying at least weekly attendance is required (22%).
These numbers are quite different from the perspective of those regularly in the pew. Churchgoers are more likely to define regular attendance according to their own attendance practices. For example, 86% of those who attend at least once a month define regular attendance as at least once a month. Still, 2 in 5 (37%) of those who attend one to three times a month would define regular attendance as at least weekly.
A bigger picture
These numbers show unity and confusion among both pastors and laypeople. There is agreement that Christians should attend church. It does not matter if you are a pastor or layperson, attend weekly or monthly, most agree being at church is necessary.
However, behind these numbers, there appears to be confusion surrounding what counts as regular church attendance. There isn’t widespread agreement among pastors and churchgoers on how to measure it.
What makes a person a regular attender? Is it merely the number of times they attend a church gathering? Or is there something more? Here are a few thoughts to consider when it comes to assessing regular attendance.
1. Physical presence can’t be the only marker of spiritual discipleship
Primarily, the definition of regular attendance isn’t a physical question but a spiritual one because attendance isn’t the goal. Sure, it is a goal, but it cannot be the goal. The real goal for every Christian, as it pertains to life in the church, is involvement. Involvement extends far beyond attendance. It is not less than being in the pew, but it is certainly more than being in the pew. Involvement requires immersion in the life of the church. By God’s design, this is where the benefits and blessings of Christian community exist. While there are certain blessings to simple attendance, those blessings are not enough for the Christian to thrive and flourish in the faith.“While there are certain blessings to simple church attendance, those blessings are not enough for the Christian to thrive and flourish in the faith.” — @SkylarSpradlin Click To Tweet
It is far too easy for people to be present in the gathering of a church and still be entirely unaffected. It is too easy to feel good about being at church and miss out on being the church. Regular church attendance must always be the beginning of Christian responsibility but never the end of it. God calls us to something far more precious, far more beneficial, and far more glorious than simply sitting in the pew.
2. God desires community in the church
If any one Scripture could inform our understanding of regular attendance, it must be Hebrews 10:24-25:
And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.(CSB)
Most people focus on the phrase “gather together” without seeing the overarching principle that defines the gathering. The thrust of gathering together is found in the two action statements of this text: provoke and encourage.
To provoke or stir up means to excite passion and rouse to action. It is tethered explicitly to love and good works. Christians are to excite one another to active love and active good works. It is our job to help other Christians in the local church love and serve God.“The Bible assumes God’s people will make it a priority to meet together to worship. Rather, the emphasis in the Scriptures is for God’s people to live in community with one another.” — @SkylarSpradlin Click To Tweet
Christians are also tasked with encouraging one another. This encouragement is put in the context of Christ’s return, that day approaching. As the Christian life marches ever closer to the return of Jesus, Christians are to help one another endure, persevere, and keep the faith until that glorious day. Christian community is the safety zone for endurance.
These two action-oriented responsibilities are not accomplished in occasional attendance. They are accomplished through sincere involvement. Sitting in the pew each week begins the process of stirring others up and encouraging them, but it can never accomplish that task by itself. Instead, God desires genuine, involved Christian community.
The call isn’t to merely attend. In fact, attendance is so expected that it isn’t explicitly addressed outside of this brief mention in Hebrews. The Bible assumes God’s people will make it a priority to meet together to worship. Rather, the emphasis in the Scriptures is for God’s people to live in community with one another. Over and over the Bible is exhorting us to this Christ-saturated, community-oriented involvement.
3. A better metric
Instead of asking what qualifies as regular attendance, God’s people need to examine what is required for biblical involvement. Involvement is what indicates spiritual health. God wants us to be all in. He has designed the church that way (1 Corinthians 12). We are dependent on one another.“Attendance is good, but it isn’t the standard we should examine Christian health by. We should examine health by how deeply involved people are with the rest of the body of Christ.” — @SkylarSpradlin Click To Tweet
Attendance is good, but it isn’t the standard we should examine Christian health by. We should examine health by how deeply involved people are with the rest of the body of Christ. This involvement can be messy. It requires getting into other people’s lives and letting them into ours. Yet, in this mess, comes the great blessing of experiencing God’s unique nearness and work. Being the church is far better than attending a church.
Lead your people to more than simple attendance so they can discover the joy of God’s plan in Christian community. While attendance is always required, it is never the end goal.
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Skylar is the lead pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Weatherford, Oklahoma. He’s earning his Masters of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the co-host of “Doctrine & Doxology” a weekly podcast geared toward helping Christians think biblically.