Back at the start of the pandemic, I was on a Zoom call with Alan Hirsch in which he stated that he would expect a 50% return rate to worship post-COVID. In speaking with fellow pastors in our area that estimation appears right. Now there is probably a confluence of reasons – 1) the annual summer dip spilling over into the fall, 2) the fact that the average American worshipper is in the medically vulnerable population age bracket, 3) Personal opinions on masking 4) that the American, commercialized church had spent the previous 20 years specializing in “mass gatherings” rather than disciple making, 5) the resetting of Sunday morning rhythms for families and the ease of “online” church, 6) nominal Christians no longer feeling the cultural pressure to be seen in a church setting. Whatever the reason, there has been an acceleration in the disengagement of people in public worship.
Whenever I consider the purpose of public worship, I return to the words of the preacher in Hebrews 10:24-25:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
This pastor had to remind his congregation to “not give up meeting together” as some were already in the habit of doing! Forty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, some of these second generation believers were willing to return to their old habits and routines. This suggests that the act of public worship is not something we will do habitually but must be continually cultivated in our life and passed down to the next generation.
As one Waypoint Trailblazer stated when we launched, “If I do not go to bed on Saturday night with the intentional plan to attend worship the next morning…I am not going to be there.” No one wakes up Sunday morning with the sudden urge to go to public worship.
As a man in AA taught me, as soon as you say “I do not need to go to a meeting today” that should be an impetus to realize you need to get yourself to a meeting ASAP. Your attendance may not even be for your benefit but for the benefit of the person sitting next to you. While you may be able to sing God’s praises on the golf course, or listen to a podcast while running, one thing that this pandemic has made abundantly clear is that we have been designed for face-to-face encounters with one another. It takes being in proximity with another person in order to spur and encourage them towards love and good deeds.
Pastor Eugene Peterson writes about an encounter he had with one of his church members: “A few years ago, on a bright spring Sunday, I met a man I had not seen in years at the entrance of our sanctuary. He had once been an active member of our church but had dropped out years before. I was surprised to see him and said, ‘Jimmy, what in the world are you doing here? It’s great to see you, but how come you chose today?” He said, “I woke up this morning feeling great, and I just had to say thank you. My business is going great, my kids are great, and the day is wonderful. And I had to say thank you to someone—and God seemed the only one adequate to receive all the thanks I am feeling.”
This is the point of worship – it is a place and time to publicly thank God for what He has carried you through the previous week, and to pray for the strength for what the next week holds.
So what are the obstacles that are preventing you from gathering regularly in public worship?