Heb. 10:25 ~ Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
In late 2012 The PEW Research Center set forth information regarding church attendance in the United States that suggested that approximately 79 % of Americans claimed that they identified with an "organized" church or religious group, while 45% said they attended service regularly. Quite naturally this lead to the conclusion that most folk, which identify with organized religion, were also church attendees.
In an October 2012 NPR report, science correspondent Shankar Vedantam, took a look at the data and the assumptions drawn from the PEW report. What he found was that there was a difference between what people "say" about their religion and organizations of faith than what they actually do regarding their faith. More specifically, Mr. Vedantam, pointed out that questions regarding religious affiliation usually shift from what one actually does by way of attendance and physical support, toward what one "feels" about their preferred group. In other words, most people feel strongly and have a preferred group of faith, but at the same time, not everyone attends or supports their preferred group with their presence.
The Time Diary Method
Columbo: Surely, that wasn't you at the golf course because you were at church the the morning of July 15th 2012 at 11:00 AM...Right?
The "time diary method" is a method of questioning that asks individuals to recount their exact whereabouts at a particular time and moment. Similar to how Detective Columbo (Peter Faulk- for those of us who still remember his screen genius) in a seemingly dumbfounded moment, asked the last question while exiting, to let the criminal affirm what he already knew. In this case, the "time diary method" allowed those that say they support a church an opportunity to expose themselves to through their own actions by following when and how often they actually attended a service with their personal presence.
This difference in Vendatam's questioning led to the conclusion that on average, only about 24% of all of them that say that they support a certain faith were actually in attendance or physically in support of their church the previous week. In other words some are saying that they believe or in this case, have a church, but are not regular attendees.
Certainly these numbers, the 24%, are much more in line with what pastors, including myself, experience at any given time or Sunday morning in particular. (It is something how tiredness doesn't really set in until then, or that relatives can find no time to visit other than Sunday morning???) But the questions are why the trend, and is this something that the church can expect more of in the future?
Trending Away From Biblical Polemics?
With liberal media sources such as Huffington Post and articles entitled "'Ain't going to go to church no more', Says Minister" and "Why We're leaving church: A report from the Nones" to name a couple, the secular world is sure that church is on a decline and what's more that church attendance will not recover based on current trends.
The problem is that the decline in church attendance is not because people aren't seeking truth or not claiming to know truth, there is simply a greater disconnect between the institution of church and the desired worship style of the people. In other words there is a new value ethic that has overwhelmed society in general that tends to treat service to God similar to a buffet..."take what you want and discard or avoid what you don't like"
When "God" Becomes A Way To "Cope"
Since most of the ministries that are readily seen on TV are ministries given to "life coaching" rather than biblical teaching, it is no wonder that people who live off of a "stay at home" and "TV ministry" diet are so confused. What they hear is a "don't worry about what you've done, or the evil that you have sowed simply 'get ready' because God is going to bless you anyhow!" With some exception, they are certainly not receiving a message of holiness, or a message of true power and selflessness. What they are doing is receiving a message of health, wealth and prosperity at their own expense of Book, CD and DVD sales...
In addition, I am witnessing people approaching God as a way to "deal with" life's issues and certain problems in many cases. For many in this generation, God is merely a way to "feel good" about things in general.God has become a "sedative" to relax the mind or spirit in an effort to feel better about life and things happening in life. In other words he is a temporal fix and one where there is very little commitment especially a type of commitment that can be called into question by anyone on the outside looking in.
The "fear of the Lord" (submission to God and reverence for God) which is the beginning (underlying premise) of wisdom (Ps. 111:10, Prov. 9:10) is absent. There is less "submission " and "reverence" for God and more "association" towards him based on the trendy buzz word "relationship". However, we should ask, is God requiring us to merely have "relationship" with HIM, or is he asking us to submit to and reverence and fear HIM because he is mighty and can do anything at anytime?
The Church & Its Self-Inflicted Wounds
What has heightened this approach toward God to the exclusion of the church is the failure of many within the institutional church. Simply put, the world has a greater expectation of and for the church and especially it's self proclaimed leaders. With some of the worst sins exposed such as pedophilia and clergy sexual abuse, misconduct, drug use and abuse and other scriptural inconsistencies, certainly some of those within the church have done their fair share in damaging the influence of it.
However, the fact is that from a biblical standpoint, if all of those within the church are wrong in their actions and behavior, there remains no one exempt from the precepts outlined within the word of God, and none that can claim superiority especially over them that have dedicated and submitted their lives to Christ in his fullness. In fact, the devil has done his work, by presenting a value system based on human values as opposed to biblical values. Within the lives of individuals who are deceived, that value system is familiar and comfortable to accept as normal, when that system has not been approved of God in any way.
"I Don't Have To Go To Church To Know God!"
Because of the failure of many within the church, this is a sentiment that many people share over and over. First, we know that it is true that one can know God anyplace and at any time, however, as stated, this is a sentiment of many of those outside of the modern church who claim that the church is defunct. They simply do not want to be preached to, neither do they claim to need a preacher. In other words, let's simply continue to read the bible, and reestablish a new standard that is acceptable to us. However, many of the same one's read scriptures such as this:
Romans 10:14-15 ~ 14-How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15-And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
and either fail to understand it, or find a teacher to reinterpret it according to their personal likes and dislikes. I have noted some of the more popular modern heresies brought by men who "sound" good like Frank Viola, who I have featured in "Is 'Pagan Christianity' A Distortion Of Truth?" who claims, like many false teachers in times past that, that the true or biblical church does not exist and that the institutional church should be abandoned in favor of smaller, more self directed Christian communities. in his works there is an utter disdain for pastoral leadership, which his most ardent followers adhere to disrespecting nearly all of those who claim to be called to ministry. (Please note that this message is packaged and marketed to and through churches to the tune of millions per year. So there is money in church bashing when it's done correctly...I guess it's a 'supernatural money transfer like Peter Popoff said!)
The Advent Of Facebook & Social Media Christianity
There are many individuals who claim to have a relationship with God and they never have to leave their 4-G phones, laptops, Ipads or desktops. Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler and other social networks have created the "revamped Christian" experience allowing others to send out what someone else has said about Christ and religion taking ownership by "posting" on their wall. Unfortunately, at the same time many of these same people hold on to cussing, fussing, booty pictures and "playa for the Himalaya" type personalities, personas and presentations.
In fact Facebook, being the worlds number one social network, is chalk full of spiritual encouragements from people everyday who never darken a church door. These "believers" receive their encouragements from daily blasts by T.D. Jakes, Paula White, and Jamaal Bryant or their favorite TV and media personalities. It all runs together for these individuals. What Oprah says is on the same level as what Paul taught or what some other "life coach" has taught. When it comes to Sunday morning, many of these individuals claim to "stay at home in prayer" or claim to "read my bible for myself", while passing along spiritual encouragements from their favorite spiritual personalities about God. It simply is what it is...
And don't even start about gospel music! Many of us who know the personalities behind some of what we hear are sickened by what we find as the music that claims to be "gospel". However, for those who don't attend church and seek to "know them that labor among you" often are carried away with ideals and talents simply because (1 Thess. 5:12) those singing are slightly different and unique from the Neo Soul, R & B, and hip-hop that they have consumed for so long. (at least in stage presentation-SOMETIMES!!!) Thank God that there are some who are beginning to stand within the industry and stand with integrity instead of the wishy-washy mess that we have witnessed over the last 15 to 20 years.
So Why Should I Be A Part Of The Church?
There are many good reasons to be an active part of the church. Although some have tried to redefine what the "church" actually is, there is ample proof that "church" is inclusive of all of them that have been called out of the world and that the group of people called church has a corporate mission and commission to GO into the world, preaching the gospel and making disciples of all men and women. (Matt. 28:18) In addition it is scriptural to do so as the first scripture within this article affirms.
If that wasn't good enough we can also point to the following:
1- Being a part of the church is clearly scriptural.
The word of God demonstrates both the establishment and the need to be a part of the church. In my article "Cornelius, Was He Already A Believer?" I examine the life of Cornelius, who many incorrectly think was the first Gentile convert to Christianity. Nothing was further from the truth. In the article I demonstrate by scriptural evidence that Cornelius was already a saved man and a believer who's prayers availed before God BEFORE Peter met him (again). I also reveal that Peter's mission was to bring Cornelius and his family into the community of faith so that he would be known openly to other Christians and believers and be accepted as a part of the faith community. This story, found in Acts 10, sets many preconceived notions on their ear and demonstrates to everyone not a part of the church that God's design is for you to become a part of it. In it there is safety and community and that's exactly what fellowship with Christ fosters.
2- The church (other believers) need you.
Your time, talent and giftings are vital to the improvement and well being of others. If you are not a part of the community of believers someone doesn't receive the benefit of YOU and that could make all the difference in the world for those whom you are called to influence and bless by your presence.
3- YOU need other believers.
For sure no man is an island. In order for you to grow you need others included in your spiritual growth. Fellowship is vital and essential to spiritual growth. Then there is accountability. When there is no union with anyone, where is any sort of accountability? Sometimes, believers need others to not only check them, but to simply love on them. That is what you find in a healthy community of believers.
4- Your spiritual positions and insights need to be challenged.
Many times people live a long time with and in wrong information. In the environment of the church not only do you have the opportunity to share your beliefs and scriptural insights, but others have the same opportunity. In that you can pray and seek the word of God together and place shape with certain ideas and understand some concepts even greater. This is the place where "iron sharpens iron" and God sends correction to his body of believers. This is essential to the growth and heath of the community of believers.
5- Your physical and mental health is improved in a community of faith.
I know many of us feel like the church and people of the church are a drain on our mental and physical capacities, but those who are a part of a healthy church and community of faith are better off for it. Science has demonstrated that the physical and mental well being of individuals in groups including faith communities are much better, especially at older ages, as compared to people on their own. So there is a personal benefit in being a part of a faith community that effects personal physical and mental health and well being.
6- Since you know what's wrong...
Fact is that the arm chair quarterback has a lot to say about the game. However, get IN the game and make the play. The church could be waiting on you for it to get right. or what you may find is that you need to get in a place where you can find that you weren't as correct as you thought you were.
7- The church ain't going nowhere!
Unlike what the Huffington Post or whosoever has said that the church is on its way out, scripture has said:
Matthew 16:18 ~ And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
As long as Jesus is in control, and he is in control even if people think they are in control, the church will live and survive and it will fulfill the mission of Christ. We need not a new savior to restore the church, the blood of the living true and holy lamb is the only thing necessary to preserve and protect the church and all them that are within it no matter where they are and where they come from.
New Bethel has taken in members from all across the United States. This we will continue to do as the Lord sends those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. If you need a church, don't hesitate to call or email us asap. I believe God with and for you and the community of believers awaits your fellowship.