Monday, July 15, 2013

Some Clarifications on Church Attendance

'302/365 ~ Perfect Attendance #award' photo (c) 2013, Ray Bouknight - license:
I have a guest post up at Anita Mathia's blog, Dreaming Beneath the Spires, about an attitude towards Sunday morning worship that, I feel, can lead to making church attendance a form of idolatry.   Some pushback was expected--that attending is not about us, that we shouldn't give up meeting together, that we need to have a focused time to think about God.

I agree with those sentiments and I wonder if I just wasn't clear enough in my original post.  I am not saying that we should live our lives in isolation.  To do so would, for me at least, bring loneliness.  However, I also think that attendance on Sunday morning doesn't necessarily bring about community and deeper relationships.  One can feel extremely lonely even as one worships with hundreds or thousands of others.  I think that we should definitely meet together (and really, I am a very regular church-attender on Sundays and I also usually go to something else once or twice during the week--a class or a Bible study--in addition to a Sunday morning class too).  

Sunday mornings are very structured, especially if a church has multiple services.  It's always some kind of liturgy, whether one realizes it or not.  Even churches that claim to not have liturgy still structure their worship.  They may not have all the "old-fashioned" or "boring" parts, but they still do everything in a specific order:  music, announcements, greetings, offering, sermon, etc.  It's meant to move along at a certain pace, constrained within a certain time, in order to get everyone in and out and home for a nice family Sunday lunch.  

Our Sunday morning service is our main attempt at community, but it does fall short.  Even our prayers are not really communal.  Usually it is one person who prays, and the rest of us listen to that prayer that is coming from that person's heart.  Two examples of prayer that is more communal stand out to me:  churches where "The Lord's Prayer" is recited together, and a church where people are allowed to speak up with their prayer requests or statements of praise.  To me, that has a more communal feel to it.  When one person is praying, especially if it is long, I have a hard time focusing, and I don't often connect (but I stink at prayer anyway, so maybe that's just me!).  

We don't really talk with each other and get to know each other during a church service.  There isn't time.  We have to do the standard "greet your neighbor" small talk during the greeting time (probably timed so the band can get back up on the stage) and it's more small talk during coffee hour.  There are opportunities in most churches to get to know people during Sunday school classes or "small groups" or mid-week Bible studies.  Some churches might take it even further and break it down into even smaller groups of two or three--I've heard them called "accountability" groups.

There are some great things that happen in each of these types of groups, from the largest to the smallest.  But I think we do it backwards.  Why do we start with the largest group and then have to get involved in progressively smaller groups?  Why not start with the smallest and then work up to larger ones? This is a concept I learned either from Neil Cole's Organic Church or the LK10 Community's teaching on CO2 (church of two), or it could be a combination of both places.  

When I am in a large group, or even a Sunday school class that I know is temporary, I am much less transparent and much less willing to be me (I'm getting better at it).  But when I am with just one or two other people, I am more likely to find that to be a safe place to share my thoughts.  A few years ago, when I was just getting to know my friend Karen, we got together almost every single week for a couple of hours to have coffee and talk and get to know each other while our kids played together.  To me, that was a form of "church".  When I go back to the dance studio in Albuquerque where I learned to dance, and I see how tight-knit, yet welcoming, it is, and how the people there care deeply for each other, I think, "that is what *church* is supposed to be like".  And I am not saying Sunday morning can't be that way--just that community and worship and spiritual growth is found in other places, and that is just as--if not more--important than a specific set service time.  

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