Missing Church

I thought that this was a very good post regarding missing church on Christmas morning.

Apparently there were quite a few Christian churches that opted not to hold worship yesterday.  Mostly, I assume, these are congregations who don’t have a tradition or practice of having Christmas Day services, and it was just coincidental that this coincided with Sunday morning, when pretty much anyone who would be inclined to visit a Christian house of worship would know to go.  I can’t understand not holding worship on a Sunday morning – holiday or not.  It’s odd that so many congregations complain about a lack of visitors, and then would shut the doors the one time and day of week when people would think to actually show up.  And particularly since so many extra folks tend to go to worship on Christmas (and Easter), rather than any other given Sunday of the year.
I think that if congregations or pastors are worried that there won’t be enough people on Sunday morning, they need to really stop and think about what they’re saying.  Essentially, they’re requiring a critical mass for the Gospel.  If we have 1/3 fewer in worship, it’s just not worth sharing the Gospel with the other 2/3.  If we have half the number in attendance, it’s not worth my time putting together a message on the Gospel, or even conducting a simpler liturgy that emphasizes the Word.  I don’t get it.  My job as a pastor is to preach the Gospel.  If my congregation shrinks down to ten people (and I used to be part of a congregation that this literally happened to every summer, though I wasn’t the pastor there), it’s still my duty & privilege to share the Gospel with those who show up.  Given how many Christians don’t have the freedom to assemble for worship, I can’t imagine a reason why I wouldn’t have church on Sunday morning.
That being said, the first link above to the blog about missing church is very helpful.  I had one or two people comment after worship Sunday morning (which was smaller by quite a bit than the previous evening’s larger-than-normal attendance) that it must have been somewhat of a blow for me.  It must have been depressing, in other words, that fewer people were there Christmas morning.
But it’s not.
It would only be depressing if I put my faith and trust and confidence in numbers – as many pastors are taught to do.  If my self-esteem rises and falls with the attendance numbers each week, then a low week is going to hurt.  So I don’t link the two.  Most weeks I don’t even know how many people were in worship.  I have a general sense of whether or not we’re above or below average, but my job is not statistically based.  My job is to provide Word & Sacrament to the faithful.  Whether there are five or 500 of them is irrelevant, other than in terms of whether or not I can afford to feed my family.  
As such, I hope people know that they shouldn’t feel guilty about missing a worship service, particularly in light of the frenzy associated with Christmas.  As the referenced blog above notes, we are not legalists.  Corporate worship is not a duty per se, it’s a privilege.  There are times when we can’t make it to worship.  We should work to minimize these, because while we are not required to worship together, there are distinct benefits to ourselves and others when we do so.  As the author of the blog notes, better planning and preparation might have allowed them to go to church.  It might even have facilitated others joining them.  We don’t know if we don’t invite, and we’re only called to invite, not to coerce.
But there is an opportunity to witness through our commitment to worship.  Is worship something that we prioritize because we are blessed and strengthened through it and have the opportunity to bless and strengthen others?  Than this should show in making it a priority.  It’s part of how we can witness to friends and family if we demonstrate that it’s important to us.  Not in a holier-than-thou, self-righteous sort of way – that’s quite counter-productive!  But simply in the manner of this-is-who-we-are-and-what-we-do-and-we’d-love-you-to-join-us-but-there’s-no-obligation sort of way.  
If your pastor makes you feel guilty for missing a church service now and then, talk with him about it and ask why this is an issue.  On the flip side, Christians ought to worship regularly.  Period.  And on another flip side (what exactly am I flipping here?  How many sides does it actually have!?!?), I’m not a fan of creating additional church services willy-nilly.  I had several congregants wonder if I wanted to create a New Year’s Eve service.  I don’t.  It’s not their tradition and I don’t feel the need to create a new one for them.  Go and enjoy the evening responsibly – that’s our freedom in Christ!  
I love the traditional services of the historic church – midweek Advent & Lenten services, Christmas Eve, Good Friday, etc.  But we don’t need to create a new worship service to “Christianize” every cultural event.  I’d truly hate to think of creating a worship service to somehow sanctify Valentine’s Day, for example.  Unless it falls on a Sunday, in which case, I’ll be there to preach the Word regardless of how many people are able or willing to come and hear.  
So if you’re able, go to worship.  If this means planning, do so.  If this means restructuring your traditions as a family, consider it.  Our kids open their stocking gifts Christmas morning before worship, and then open their presents when they get home.  They’re none the worse for the ‘interruption’, and hopefully they come to understand that worship is a blessing that we don’t want to miss if we can avoid it, even if they’re a little extra fidgety thinking about the presents waiting to be opened (and many thanks to my wonderful wife for dealing with their fidgetiness in worship!)  
If you aren’t able to go, don’t feel guilty about it.  We’ll see you next week, God-willing!

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