“Are you staying for preach’n?” This may sound like a crazy question to be asked at a place of worship on a Sunday morning, especially to millennials. Most of my colleagues are praying about ways to get more of the congregation involved in small groups where they can build community. Then its helping them discover their gifts, passions, and calling so that they begin to serve Christ as a Spirit-filled disciple.
Isn’t that the greater challenge? Moving people from the corporate worship into small groups, places of kingdom service, and helping them to truly be the church? Yes, that is certainly a task that the church I serve is regularly tackling.
I am also aware of another danger, however, that reminds me of a question that I was often asked in a Sunday School class as a child in the 1970’s. “Are you staying for preach’n?” You see, along with the Sunday School offering, the attendance report, the number of folks who had read their Bible daily and studied their lesson, there was a place to report the number of class members who planned to also be in worship. And it was not uncommon for the worship attendance and Sunday School attendance to be about the same. At the country church I attended, approximately 10% of those in Sunday School did not stay for worship. But another 10% not in Sunday School would show up for worship.
Today corporate worship participants tend to significantly outnumber those who attend a small group, to the degree that I am afraid we may be overlooking an important and influential minority. I’m speaking of the ones who are involved in small groups, usually serving in some capacity, as well as serving in a variety of other areas in the church. The ones I see around all the time… except when scanning the congregation from the pulpit!
What’s the big deal, right? They’ve already advanced to that next level of service and involvement. You don’t have to worry about them. Uh, not so fast. In fact, I may be more concerned about this group. Let me give you some reasons.
1. I know the importance of my calling, and I take it very seriously. Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 14:3 that my proclamation of biblical truth under the anointing of the Holy Spirit in a corporate setting is absolutely essential for body life. Specifically, if I am doing what God has called and gifted me to do, those present will be edified, encouraged, and comforted. In other words, it is a necessary time of refueling that fights discouragement, breakdown, and frustration in various areas of kingdom service and living. Those who regularly miss corporate worship will almost always experience the latter.
2. I know the impact corporate worship has on my life. When we sing great confessions of faith as a body in agreement, the pipeline from my soul to the heart of God is strengthened and restored. I realize that I am part of the Bride of Christ. I become more aware of His presence by the mere synergy of worshipers exalting Jesus together. Emotions are horrible masters, but wonderful servants. And those who miss this synergy while always serving in other areas find themselves emotionally drained.
3. I know our natural tendency to avoid confrontational truth. Our corporate gathering also serves the purpose of our “spurring one another toward love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25).” Back to that country church I grew up in. I will never forget homecoming services. I distinctly remember arriving very early with my grandfather one year. A group of men had been awake throughout the night preparing the stew. They would work together through the corporate worship hour to have the delicious BBQ ready. But my thoughts concerning half of the men present at that moment were, “Who are these men? Why are they never in worship? Are all of them really needed here? Why are their wives often in worship alone except for Christmas, Easter, and Mother’s Day?” Even as a child I could discern that these men had no intention of allowing the Word of God proclaimed by the man of God to confront their souls which were far from God.
The slipping away from consistent corporate worship that refuels, encourages, unites, edifies, and restores souls in the context of a covenant community is so subtle. One week you had to keep nursery. The next week a member of your family was sick. The following week that relative who doesn’t attend church prepared a lunch celebration at noon for the whole family, so you jetted after small group. Then? Guess what? It was your turn in the nursery again, followed by a travel ball tournament, followed by that Sunday you were helping in the kitchen for the church social. Oh, but you stayed active! You were active serving in mid-week ministry to children and attending small group occasionally. But before you knew it, it had happened to you. The passion and power experienced by so many, igniting a fire in your brothers and sisters, has eluded you! You are present for “Martha moments” to serve and feel better about your devotion, while having too few “Mary moments” until you are no longer present at all. Your service has become lifeless and drudgery.
And you may not even know why! It is because you are missing the biblically mandated prescription of the corporate worship encounter way too often. And it is taking a toll on your spiritual fervor.