Looking back over the last three months or so, a respected survey group identified about one-third of practicing, church-going Christians as casualties of the COVID 19 pandemic. No, these Christians didn’t die from the disease. Few if any of them had the virus. They were casualties because they stopped attending church. The other two-thirds attended church electronically. Some participated in more than one church! What happened to make this one-third stop or never start attending electronically?
Folks who had always attended worship in person may have found on-line worship unfulfilling or awkward. (Maybe trying to sing choruses or hymns or praying while sitting in the living room in pjs, drinking coffee with the dog at your feet seemed odd.) People who relied on in-person worship to reinforce their fellowship with other believers couldn’t find that on a TV or computer screen. And, to be honest, some soon discovered that other people didn’t even know whether or not they were “at church.”
The reason why this large portion of regular attenders dropped out will vary. The effects and perhaps the remedy for their neglect of corporate worship may be more important.
We’ve been told many times that attending church does not make a person a Christian. True, attending church does not make you a Christian any more than attending a concert makes you a musician, or watching a movie makes you a film star. But, Christians, those God has called into relationship with Him through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, have been called to be part of a group, the body of Christ. One glaring implication of this induction is that we need one another. Introvert, extravert, hermit, or social gadfly, we are to share our lives with other believers in whatever way is possible.
Some of us spent part of our Christian lives ignoring or playing down the church. When God turned our hearts and heads back toward Him, we knew we needed to hear the truth proclaimed. We needed to sing our praises, confessions, and doctrine. We needed the encouragement of other believers even if it comes sometimes in electronic form. We discovered, sadly, the longer we were apart from what the church had to offer, the easier it was to live our lives our own way.
The remedy for these spiritual casualties will not be a vaccine. Whatever remedies the Holy Spirit brings, there will be something for the church to do and something for the casualties themselves to recognize: the importance of accountability.
For a long time, churches have settled for a one-third, two-thirds (or worse) division in the congregation. One-third of the official members participate at some level, two thirds rarely or not at all. Afraid we would drive them away, we seldom discussed church attendance, giving, the spiritual life, the Spirit’s activity today with the inactive folks on our rolls. Accountability asks us to begin to think and talk in terms of Christian responsibility as a way of dealing with our COVID-19 casualties?
Perhaps if you have read this far, you may self-identify as one of the casualties. Electronic worship or socially-distant worship may be unappealing to you or unhelpful. Your plan is to wait until things are back to “normal.” In the meantime you can become comfortable with your own thinking, your own view of how to live as a believer, your own needs and wants, your own excused sin. You prefer private worship. One-on-one time with God is vital, but a faith nourished only by our own beliefs and practices and resources will soon prove to be inadequate. We need spiritual friends. We need others to whom we can give and from whom we can receive. We need folks who will ask how we are and care about our answers. God said it: We need the church.
“And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrew 10:24-25, NASB)