A new study conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University finds what many of us who regularly attend church have seen and sadly suspected:
Fewer middle-aged people are worshipping with an organized body of believers these days.
Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal suggests Christians in their 40s and 50s have fallen away from regular attendance following the pandemic because they’re “in the thick of raising kids, caring for aging parents and juggling demanding jobs that spill into the weekend.”
The recently released research concluded that just 28% of those between the ages of 39 and 57 attend service either in person or online each week, compared to 41% in 2020, just prior to mandatory Covid shutdowns.
The Journal quotes Josh Packard, a 45-year-old sociologist of religion, who says, “It’s not like they (non-attendees) are walking away, saying, ‘I’m now an atheist and don’t believe.’ They still believe in a God and live life with purpose but are done with the institutional church.”
Mr. Packard’s assessment may be somewhat generous, especially since drawing conclusions about a person’s sense of purpose based on a few questions can be difficult or incomplete. To live fully on mission, Christians are also encouraged to not neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). Of course it’s possible to be detached from a church body and yet still love the Lord, but part of every believer’s “purpose” is fellowship with other Christians.
There’s no question that Christians’ fervor and commitment spans the spectrum from seeming apathy to strong conviction. This has always been the case. In fact, just attending services doesn’t guarantee strong faith.
But the great misnomer, articulated by the Wall Street Journal and undoubtedly held by many, is that church attendance somehow subtracts from both quantity and quality of life. The idea of skipping church to find margin or add time and value to our week is actually upside-down logic. It’s just not the case. It’s a lie whispered by the enemy, and one that too many seem to buy, hook, line, and sinker.
Yes, going to church will require your time and energy – energy and time that will not be spent on other things. But like money invested in a long-term opportunity, time spent in church will compound, if not in the short-term then definitely in the long.
Church attendance is not only pleasing to God (and shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal of every believer?), but it’s also a wonderful witness to our friends and neighbors. They’re watching us and drawing conclusions. We’re influencing others, for good or bad, whether we realize it or not.
The benefits of going to church extend beyond those important reasons, however. By going regularly, you’re opening your mind and heart to what the Lord might have you learn from pastors, Sunday school teachers and others whom you’ll encounter. This spiritual insight, information and perspective can literally change – or someday maybe even save your life.
Church changes us for the good. It tempers and tames our various appetites. A good pastor or congregation challenges us at times, steps on our toes, and forces us to acknowledge our own sinfulness and selfishness. As a result, church helps singles learn and discern what to look for in a mate, mentors us in marriages, and comforts us in sickness and times of grief.
What Thomas Fuller once said of friendship also applies to church – it multiplies our joys and divides our sorrows.
It was in the 1860s when Samuel John Stone, an Anglican priest, wrote the great hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation.” This soaring anthem of the faith was written to confront some of the many challenges facing Christians at the time.
“Though with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed,” Stone wrote in verse 4. “By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed. Yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, ‘How long?’ And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song!”
Saints of the Christian faith likewise carry on today, and how grateful we are for the pastors and believers who keep watch. They are worthy of our prayers – and our presence in church.
Photo from Shutterstock.