‘You didn’t go to church on Sunday?’
When I was younger (like 6 years old), I assumed that everyone went to church on Sunday — all of Sunday. I also assumed that everyone enjoyed going church. It was one of the first shocks of my life to find that some of my school mates and their families stayed home on Sunday mornings. The reasons why someone was no longer going to come to church confused me. It took me a while to understand that some folks could go a year, a decade or more without attending a worship service. Eventually, an implicit judgment settled into my psyche about people who did not attend weekly worship: something must be wrong with them.
For the last 34 years of my life, the vast majority of my Sunday mornings have been spent with the people of God. No complaints here — it continues to be the greatest privilege to worship with and serve those who are on the journey of trusting Jesus with their lives. As I have gotten older, met more people and listened to their stories, my assumptions have changed. Now, I tend to assume that most people in the US and Europe do not attend a worship gathering on any regular basis. I have many pre-judgments that I am actively trying to discard. If I am honest, the judgment around what I think about people who do not attend church regularly has been a tough one. It has only been in the last 5 years that I have come to the place that I can say confidently: I do not know why people do not attend church.
This is not a ‘hands in the air — I give up’ confession. It is a confession simply because I assume I know why people do not go to church. I assume I know why they left this church and started attending that church. I assume that the little bits of information (or better, gossip) that I have is enough evidence to draw a final conclusion on their reasons for no longer attending church or even considering it an option. But the truth is — the truth that every church-going person must face at some time is simply this: more than likely, the reasons why people stop attending church or never give it a try are possibly more substantial than we think. The following quote from Eugene Peterson’s Reversed Thunder speaks to this:
“The more a person is aware of the many-dimensioned catastrophes (moral, ecological, nuclear, etc) that threaten human existence, the more the act of worship is called into question. The people who quit worshipping are not, for the most part, people who do not care about the world, but precisely those who do. It is not for lack of moral energy that worship is slighted by many, but exactly because of it. They desert the place of worship with the best of motives, in order to do something about the world’s condition. The people with whom they have been worshipping [with] all these years — some of them not too bright, many of them nice enough as neighbors, most of them sleepily unaware of the gravity of our condition — all at once seem unpromising allies, and they leave them in search of moral intensity and intellectual rigor.”
I do not think Pastor Peterson is giving non-attendees too much credit. His assertion forces pre-judging people like me to take a step back and ask ourselves: do we really know why they do not come to church? Have we asked them? Are we willing to listen to their real answers? Could it be that there reasons are valid?
Today, multitudes across the planet stepped into spaces for worship, prayer and teaching with other believers. What also happened today was that close to the same amount, more or less did not do that. Maybe something is wrong with them. Maybe they do not know what they are missing. Or maybe they are waiting to see something worth waking up for.
We do not really know why they did not come today — but tomorrow is a great opportunity to ask them.