In an episode of the much beloved “Andy Griffith Show” that aired between 1960 and 1986, Deputy Barney Fife talks about the dangers of apathy. He explains to Sheriff Andy Taylor that the world has become apathetic in many ways. Apathy as defined by Merriam-Webster is a “lack of feeling or emotion or lack of interest or concern.” At it turns out, Barney was right to be worried about an apathetic attitude in his town. After all, when people no longer care, it’s difficult to convince them something is important or worth their effort or time.
Unfortunately, many self proclaimed believers appear to have an apathetic attitude towards church attendance of late, which is of course a troubling revelation for pastors.
With the recent passage of the yearly Black Friday shopping day, social media was covered with memes condemning those who would get up before dawn, stand in line for a deal on a toy, yet refuse to get out of bed and go to church. Another meme that frequently makes its rounds is one that compares a person’s willingness to get up early, drive miles away, stand up for hours in the cold, cheering on their favorite sports team with their unwillingness to attend a local church service.
These memes have one point, to induce guilt. Condemning those choosing a seemingly “fun” activity over church attendance. It turns out, though, that this isn’t exactly the right focus. In actuality, many people aren’t making a conscience choice by picking one activity over church attendance. Sleep over church. They aren’t lazy. They are instead apathetic, which might prove to be much more difficult to counteract.
“As long as we keep complaining about people not attending church services, we will continue to miss actual opportunities to meet them where they are. Guilting people into church attendance won’t work,” author and pastor Karl Vaters wrote in an article in Christianity Today. “Church attendance is not and never has been the issue. Jesus didn’t say ‘I have come that they may get out of bed early on their day off to sing songs together and listen to a sermon’”
It’s normal for nonbelievers to push back against attending church. Why would they want to be around believers, get up early on their day off and commit themselves to listening to teaching in the form of a sermon and singing songs they don’t care about? Therefore, believers will never be able to guilt nonbelievers into attending church. When it comes to believers not being faithful to their churches, though, there is some actions churches can take. Hint: it isn’t guilt — it’s emphasizing the joy of being part of a congregation.
“Stop emphasizing guilt about church attendance. Start emphasizing the joy of belonging,” Vaters said.
Don’t worry about perfect attendance. Only love can and should convince believers to be faithful to their congregations, not ribbons or accolades for attending regularly or condemnation for missing. The fellowship and support they receive from the body of believers is worthy of emphasis. The “joy of belonging” as Pastor Vater, instead of guilt or legalism should be the focus of churches today.
“People who love Jesus want to gather with others who love Jesus,” Vaters added.
The life of a believer was never meant to be a lonely one. In the Bible Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
This verse reiterates the point mentioned above. Believers need encouragement. They don’t need guilt. For that matter, neither do nonbelievers. This isn’t to say congregations shouldn’t have boundaries. There must be theological truths and they should be preached.
Suffice it to say, though, that building up church attendance will often be impossible when guilt or praise for attendance is the main focus. Instead, churches must create an environment of support and encouragement within their doors. When this type of support and love is present, people won’t want to miss and they won’t have to be reminded to attend, either. They will yearn for the support and rejuvenation they enjoy when at church and will attend regularly as a result. Consequently, this love and support will be the impetus to beating apathy away in the lives of both believers and nonbelievers alike.
~ 1776 Christian