years ago, i created a table that reflected what i really believed about church attendance. i’ve taught it to my youth ministry classes over the past three decades. it was pretty specific to youth ministry in those days, but looking at it with fresh eyes today, i think it applies to any age group…in just about any context.
here’s how to interpret it: in this discussion, there are four “levels” of spiritual maturity when it comes to participating in church programs. the lowest level of spiritual maturity are people who don’t come to our programs for all the wrong reasons. lame excuses like, “i don’t have the right kind of clothes”, or “so and so hurt my feelings”, or “i’m going to a movie instead”, or “i stayed up too late last night”. i think you get the picture. people who don’t come and their reasons don’t hold water.
the next level of spiritual maturity is reserved for people who come to our church programs, but for all the wrong reasons. guys who show up because there are cute girls to hit on…or girls who come to get out of doing chores at home…or people who show up hoping to impress god with their attendance or to work off guilt from the night before…or men who want to get their wives off their backs. sure…it’s attendance. but there’s no heart…no passion…no integrity. it’s generally better than not coming at all, but only slightly.
the next level is where we want most believers to find themselves. these are people who come for right reasons… for study or fellowship or commitment to serving or ministry responsibility or relationship building or worship or personal growth. it’s all good. they are coming to our programs for healthy and honorable reasons.
but here’s a curve ball.
i think the highest level of spiritual maturity might be reserved for the unlikely…for people are mature enough to make decisions to be somewhere other than our church programs. even on a regular basis. these are people who don’t come…for right reasons.
these are people who take personal responsibility for their own spiritual growth and development…so they can spend their time investing in others. especially in those who don’t regularly darken the doors of our church buildings.
maybe it’s a teenager who decides to spend wednesday nights at home with her parents…eating dinner, handling the clean-up and dishes, and then sitting with her folks and talking or watching television…in order to develop a deeper relationship with them and show them the love of jesus in a tangible way, simply because they need it. instead of going to the youth group bible study.
or maybe it’s like the guys in my youth group years ago who intentionally developed friendships with some mormon guys at their high school. based on those friendships, the mormon guys invited these boys to join them for basketball on the same night as our weekly high school bible study. so they came to the next bible study, told the group what they were going to do and asked us to pray for god to use them to help these other guys see jesus. it was incredibly cool.
or maybe it’s a mom or dad who need to put food on the table in a difficult economy and the only job they can find requires them to work on sundays.
…or any number of legitimate, honest and purposeful reasons to miss church programs to meet a greater need for the good for the kingdom.
it’s not a perfect way to evaluate attendance, but understanding these four types of people has always enabled me to keep the bigger picture in mind…and the greater goal in front of people: the goal of forgetting self and offering our bodies as living sacrifices for the good of others and the honor of god and his kingdom first.