Church attendance in America, as it has in most first world nations, has gone down. When invited, people often ask, “Why attend church?” Those asking the question most often include the unchurched—those who never attended when growing up. But it also includes those who attended and “got nothing out of coming.” A still smaller number are those who are Christians and don’t see the need for it, claiming they have heard it all before.
Today’s passage comes from the tenth chapter of Hebrews where the author is encouraging the recipients of his letter to persevere in their faith despite the persecuting they are enduring, “…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” (Hebrews 10:24-25—NASB). The passage provides two key answers for church attendance: to stimulate fellow believers to continue to love and to do good things for each other and to encourage one another in the tough times that they face.
If our church services are merely programmed, grid-controlled shows with no opportunity for personal interaction or are liturgical repetitions with no personal application, we are not biblical. There must be provision for some interaction—development of relationship that allows encouragement and inspiration.
I attend a mega-church, defined as one with over 1,000 weekly attenders. We average 2,100 per week at New Hope Leeward. For years, growing large churches has been the “in” model. Large churches offer an abundance of advantages, but the key disadvantage—which actually makes it attractive to some—is the anonymity large crowds offer. Some people merely want to slip in—enjoy good music and the pastor’s comedic and entertaining monologue—and then slip out, not bothered by anyone being in their business.
It is true, as it certainly is in our church, that there is great value in being exposed to the biblical truths shared primarily by our three excellent preaching pastors. But as today’s scripture makes it clear, that alone is not enough. Our lead pastor and our church’s leadership team realize our Hawaiian congregants are fighting time constraints like few in the rest of America deal with. Hawaii has the highest cost of living of any state in the union, with the average wages being among the lowest. That inverted economics drives a person to often work two jobs, with couples commonly having three to four jobs between them. Time is their greatest shortage. They barely have time to attend church, let alone fellowship.
The answer? The leadership team opted to put a full court press on our congregants not trying to do four or five church activities, but to focus on two: 1. weekend service attendance, where they can come together with the body of Christ in corporate worship and hear the message church leadership believes is for our congregants that day and 2. participate in an ohana (small) group, where relationships can be built and encouragement and stimulation to do good works can occur.
It is minimalistic, but it does allow the typical, faithful Christian to grow. And as they mature and as they have time, they can slowly add other things like serving, taking a class, or even leading in a ministry. And, it fulfills the biblical mandate laid out in today’s passage!
Fellowship with like-minded Christians is a key part of our growth. It assists us to meet our need for affirmation and correction when done well. And, it allows the building of relationships that is simply impossible in the midst of hundreds of other worshippers.
Gloria and I have led an ohana group here in Hawaii for 20 years, and it has produced our closest friendships and deepest growth. Coupled with faithful and regular church attendance, it provides us a good basic floor to which we add our other spiritual disciplines to continue strong in our Christian walk!
Mike Ward is a retired Colonel in the US Air Force after 30 years. In the 20 years since, he has been a staff Pastor and Elder for New Hope. He currently serves as the District Superintendent and teaches leadership at New Hope College. He and Gloria, his wife of 48 years, live on O’ahu.