Word Wednesday Nugget – Sitting on the Pew
By Rebekah McCloud
As a college student, I used to take an hour bus ride into the city each Sunday morning to attend Sunday School and the morning worship service. My classmates thought I was weird and I often wondered why they did not attend. That practice continued into my adulthood. Church attendance was and still is an important part of my life. Growing up as a PK (preacher’s kid), I was at church almost every time the doors opened. However, unlike some, I was a cheerful and willing attendee.
Many of my friends and people my age (60+) have fond memories of growing up in church. Almost everyone has a funny story. As a kid, in my community, most folks went to church. We had a neighborhood drunk who used to sober up and show up at church on Sundays. Periodically, he would break out in song and sing our souls happy. We all knew some CMEs and some FWBs. You know, the infrequent attendees. The ones that would go to church on Christmas, Mother’s Day, or Easter (CME) or those that attended for funerals, weddings, or baby christenings (FWB). We all knew one, had one in our family, or were one. Those were the days.
Although the pandemic had a major impact on church attendance, it was on the decline well before COVID-19 reared its ugly head. According to a Gallup poll, church membership in the U.S. was 73% when first measured in 1937. It remained near 70% for over 60 years. It started to decline around the beginning of the 21st century. From 1998-2000 it averaged 69%, 2008-2010 it was 62%, and 2018-2020 it was 49%. Additionally, a Pew research study found that 92% of Americans in 1972 said they were Christian and in 2020 that number had decreased to 64%. Nothing is new under the sun. The Bible talks about the falling away (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Here are a few questions to ponder. Does the Bible require church attendance? Why is it important?
The Bible does not explicitly require church attendance. However, in Matthew 16:18, the Lord says, “upon this rock I build my church.” The establishment and continuation of a body of believers was encouraged by the Apostle Paul. During his ministry, Paul wrote letters to the churches in various regions. In his letter in Hebrews 10, Paul wrote to encourage Christian fellowship. Verses 24-25 are key to understanding this concept. It reads as follows, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Let’s briefly unpack this passage.
First, what does it mean to “stir up one another to love and good works?” I believe it means to join with others, support others, or encourage others to engage in service within and outside of the body of Christ. That service could be as simple as cleaning the church, sweeping the church parking lot, serving as a church leader/officer, serving in a homeless ministry, visiting the sick and shut in, running errands for those in need, or supporting the ministry with our time, talent, and treasures. These good works, done in love, make a world of difference to the recipients.
Second, the passage tells us not to neglect meeting together. Attending church services, Bible study, prayer meetings, Vacation Bible School, Watch Night meetings, revivals, etc. are ways to meet together as a body of believers. Social media makes it easier and assessable for some to attend. Whether we meet in person, virtually, or in a hybrid situation, God is with us. The Bible says in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Additionally, Colossians 3:16 reminds us to “Let the teaching of Christ and His words keep on living in you. These make your lives rich and full of wisdom. Keep on teaching and helping each other.”
Third, the latter part of the verse says we should encourage one another. To me, this is one of the most important purposes of Christian fellowship. 1 Corinthians 14:26 asks, “What am I saying, Christian brothers? When you meet together for worship, some of you have a song to sing. Some of you want to teach and some have special words from God. Some of you speak in special sounds and some of you tell what they mean. Everything should be done to help those who are meeting together to grow strong as Christians.” We never know who needs encouragement. It could be someone sitting on the pew next to us, someone sitting on the other side of the sanctuary, someone tuned in virtually, someone watching a service on television, or someone listening to the radio or via a podcast. It could be the pastor or one of the church leaders. Sometimes we need encouragement. Often, a kind word, a touch, a smile, or an emoji or a note posted in the virtual chat makes a difference. I Thessalonians 5:11 reminds us to, “encourage one another and build one another up.”
I am hopeful that folks will find their way back to the house. One of my favorite songs is titled “We Have Come into His House.” In part, it says,
“We have come into His house,
Gathered in His name to worship Him…
So, forget about yourself and
Concentrate on Him and worship Him…
Let us lift up holy hands and
Magnify His name and worship Christ the Lord
Worship Him, Jesus Christ the Lord.”
Back in the day my college classmates thought I was weird for going to church. Well, 45 years later, I am still going and I will continue to go as long as the Lord says so. Most Sundays you will find me sitting on the pew. I need my weekly word, the worship, the fellowship, the encouragement, and the opportunity do as Paul and share in the gospel of God and in the lives of others (I Thessalonians 2:8).
Jones, J. (2021). U.S. church membership falls below majority for first time. https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx.
Reed, B. (2023). Losing their religion: Why US churches are on the decline. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/jan/22/us-churches-closing-religion-covid-christianity. us-news/2023/jan/22/us-churches-closing-religion-covid-christianity.