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Christian Living

Get a Life! How much is too much church?

Several weeks back, Jason Raitz posted this on his Facebook wall:

So, I’m curious and need your help. Quite a few people have asked me this question in the past 2 weeks. ‘Is attending church consistently really all that important’? What do you think? I’ve been writing a blog post on this for awhile now, but would love your help!

Read the post & comments here

My very first thought when seeing this question was this, “Is that a rhetorical question?” It’s impossible to imagine that he’d really think that anyone would post on his wall and say no to him. I mean… dude is a pastor of a church plant. His Facebook wall is 99% mentions of his church. His Facebook profile picture is the logo to his church. I know Jason, he’s a great guy, and he’s 120% about his church.

So obviously, Jason thinks everyone on the planet should be consistent about church attendance.

He and I agree on that point, 100%. I believe consistent church attendance is part of walking with Jesus. But when I see a church leader say stuff like that I have to read between the lines because I’m willing to bet that his definition of “consistently” is different than mine.

Here’s what I replied:

I guess I’ll be the voice of decent. (Shocker, I know) I used to think it was a big deal… when I worked at a church. And now we make church a priority, we go a lot, but more like 35-40 weeks a year instead of 50-52 when I worked at a church. But I would say that nothing happens there that is magical and makes me OK with Jesus any more than not going. Plenty of times I go to church and leave completely unsure of why we went. So is going to church consistently “really all that important?” I think there are a lot of other things more important. The flip side question is also really important, “Is there such a thing as going to church too often?”

The Right Question

Ultimately, I think Jason’s heart was, “What level of church involvement is healthy and good for a believer?

And, as a dude who used to work at a church but is now trying to figure out life in ministry without being on staff at a church, it’s one I think about.

I used to be Jason. My life used to revolve wholly around the life of my church. And I remember dealing with the frustration of seemingly never having enough volunteers or money or consistency from people who were part of my church. I was wondering “how do I get the most out of people” and it ripped my heart out to have people pull me aside and ask, “What’s the minimum level of involvement I can have here and be OK in your eyes?

But I’m not in Jason’s seat anymore. My life has changed. Things are different and as much as I empathize with it and understand it, I long for Jason (and people like him) to really see things from the perspective of people in the community.

On the one hand I want to be part of my church, I want to find community there, and I love investing in the guys in my high school small group. On the other, I almost see getting involved at church as a trap: Attending ANYTHING includes ovations and invitations to attend more stuff at church. (We’ve been part of 2 churches in San Diego since making this transition, while they are both wildly different in size, this one aspect is exactly the same. Being a part of one thing almost always includes invitations to more things.)

Addressing the Elephant in the Room

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Jesus in John 10:10

When you drive around in many places in Europe you’ll begin to notice that the church is the tallest building in town. Quite literally, the church in many Europeans was designed to be the central focal point of a community.

In America, churches are rarely the high point of a city. Instead, churches try to make themselves the high point of congregants lives.

And in the same way you or I would drive into a small Bavarian town and laughingly think… “Did they really think that if they made the church the biggest building in town it’d become the most important thing in people’s lives?” The same is true when we wrap our whole lives around the day-to-day activities of being a part of a church.

It works and doesn’t work at the same time.

I think wrapping every free minute and thought up in the life of our church misses the point of John 10:10. It’s not living life to the full. It’s living life full-of-something-less.

I have many friends who work in churches and I think, “Do they have a life outside of their jobs?” Because addiction to a church job is just as unsexy and unhealthy as addiction to teaching or being a CPA or any other job. Being a workaholic as a church leader is incredibly dangerous (it impacts EVERYONE in your life) but also somehow seen as incredibly normative. (Which is why so many people don’t want to be involved in churches, they see it as unhealthy!) I find myself lovingly telling friends, “You need hobbies, you need a life, you need adult friends.” But at the same time you’d think a pastor wouldn’t need to be told that. You’d think they’d be modeling health to me instead of the other way around?

Newsflash: There are not “non-church-y people” walking around your neighborhood right now thinking, “Know what I need? I need to get involved in something that keeps me really, really busy!

We, as a society, are busy enough. We need rest. We need less. We need Sabbath.

Desperate for Good News

Think about it like this. I believe humans are hardwired to inately seek out good news. (Both the Good News of Jesus and good news, more generally. General revelation means all things that are good come from God, right?)

Is how you live, as a church leader, good news in your neighborhood? Do you have a life? Do you have hobbies? Do you practice Sabbath? Are you present with your children? Do you date your spouse? Do you manage your house? Are your weeds pulled?

Because that’s the stuff your neighbors notice about you. Do they look at your life and go… “Dang, I want that!” Or are they looking at your life and going, “I don’t know what that dude does… but I don’t want to be like that.

If the answer to that question is… “Um, crap. Probably not” and you want your community to hear the Good News of Jesus you’re going to have to figure out how to live a life that’s good news. You are going to have to make some changes.

No one walks into a church building thinking “How can I get more busy?”

If you could preach to me, the sermon I long to hear, the good news I need in my life– is for someone to stand up and help me discover less church life and more life of being the light of Jesus in my community. Someone, anyone, please tell me what’s enough church involvement instead of inviting me to more. If you can do that it’d be the best news I’ve heard all year.

A fully devoted life to Jesus simply cannot be a fully devoted life to church life.

I’d love to hear thoughts, comments, call for my head below in the comments. People who work in churches… does what I just said make any sense at all? People who go to churches… does what I said resonate with you? Why or why not?

Photo credit: German Village Steeple by a_peabody via Flickr (Creative Commons)

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

20 replies on “Get a Life! How much is too much church?”

Yes, for the Christian who desires to grow in his/her spiritual walk, consistent participation in the life of the body is a big deal.

Answer: Enough that one does not become a lone wolf practicing one’s religion apart from the community.

It isn’t a precise number, and I’m sure you would have challenged me if I would have given one. But I do think that it needs to be enough to keep us in touch with the greater Christian community for several reasons:
1) We were created to live in community by our creator who himself exists in community as a tri-unity.
2) The community needs us, those who are in Christ have an obligation to the body of Christ to uphold it, and because others need us, we need to be there for them.
3) Many of the biggest errors committed in the name of religion, any religion, have come from people who came up with an idea or understanding on their own and then went off on their own without getting feedback from others on it. Not a Christian story, but it applies just the same, this recent murder in Oklahoma by the man who severed a woman’s head was done by a man who had supposedly relatively recently converted to Islam. Well, he had attended a few services at the local mosque where he actually heard sermons condemning this sort of teaching. But, he wasn’t consistent in his attendance, getting most of his “religion” instead from interacting with people over the internet. If he had been living in community, be it Christian or Islamic, he would have had feedback from people that this was anathema. But on his own he was a lost soul.
4) Scripture (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12) teaches that each member of the body is important, but the body should not be composed of just one member. When we are not consistent enough in our attendance to be connected to the body, but living as isolated members, then we may still claim to be a Christian, but we are no longer really part of the body of Christ. The manner of our connection, frequency of it, methodology of it is going to vary with each person, but having some sort of connection maintained by prayer, conversation, celebration and feedback from, to, for, and with one another is essential if we are going to be the people of God we have been called to be in Jesus Christ.

Good article and good questions. I am among the ones who work in the church and have to wrestle with the numbers game – I want people/students there because it means success for my program and I feel good about what we are doing. (reveals a dark side to church leadership when we focus so much on numbers).

I don’t know if there is an easy clear-cut answer. I think what I struggle with is when church attendance is low priority, after-thought. I think what I want most for my students is to desire the community the church/student ministry/small group can provide. That’s why I am becoming a bigger and bigger fan of small groups. If a student/family misses a Sunday or two (or three…), much of the time the small group leader knows why. Consistency in attendance then doesn’t communicate a level of spirituality as much as it provides an opportunity to stay connected to the community that knows me, cares about me and helps me grow.

I guess I might offer another question – how consistent do I want to be to stay connected to that community of believers? If I miss a Sunday, the community is not broken, but by my regular involvement (meaning it is a priority in my life) enhances that community and moves me forward. And being connected with a caring community will be attractive to those outside the church.

Just my thoughts…

I suppose it also depends on WHAT you are doing before and after church. If you go, get fed and then leave thats on thing but if you are the type of person that interacts with people while there and interacts with your large and small group communities then its another.

You said right out of the gate” I wrestle with the numbers game” and ” I want people and students there because it means success for my program and it feels good !!!!! ”
I like that answer …I get it….but it also sounds like an agenda ?! Success of what ?
You struggle when church attendance is low priority ?
To me your all about the numbers and the focus is on the attendance and attendance means commerce.
But I’m only playing a flip side to show you what someone may see from a different perspective , what say you ?

My confession of the “numbers game” was just that – a confession. Because I’m invested every day in church stuff, it’s what I do. And sometimes, people who work in the church are judged or evaluated on numbers. My guess is that most people, not matter their career or area of involvement, want to be successful. And, yes, I want more students to be in church. Whether in our church or some other church.

That being said, I don’t sweat it when kids aren’t there every single week. We have kids who parents are divorced and so aren’t at church each week because they are with the parent who doesn’t attend our church. Some are involved in activities that happen the same time as church. We had a number of students who were involved in their high school musical production. They did a Sunday matinee performance and weren’t at small groups. Sometimes practices kept them from church activities. I don’t think less of them or fear for their spirituality.

What I was getting at – and maybe didn’t express very well – is that consistent involvement in the life of the church is what should be more of our focus. I understand that being at church regularly (even every Sunday of the year) doesn’t guarantee spiritual growth. But, you can’t connect with our people, share successes and struggles, encourage and help one another, if you aren’t there.

It’s not about attendance or commerce. It’s about being involved in a community that helps us grow in our walk with Jesus.

I fight the more, more, more everyday as a youth worker. People are not lacking for something to do but for “What we DO” to be meaningful. My answer to the question is this: your butt in the pew every Sunday (or not) does little to further the kingdom nor guarantee you a prime spot in heaven. What you do from Mon-Saturday does. Clear your conscious in prayer and confession, not by adding more to what you do at church. Be Good News in your words and deeds. If it brings you joy, continue doing it. Lastly, sometimes Sunday is the only day for rest, so rest. Even Jesus took time off.

Adam! Dude, I am so glad you left the church! 🙂 You always make me think! I love your heart and unique perspective.

So, as I was getting ready to hit “Post comment”, I thought of something. Maybe it’s nothing.

For my friends that are starting up businesses/companies, (I’m thinking of guys who are flipping houses or starting a franchise) I understand that there is a significant upfront investment in time. When you are starting out, it IS your life. I wouldn’t even think of telling them to get a life. And it’s not until you have some cash flow or a good team around you that you can back off a bit.

I guess I feel like a number of youth pastors (at least) are kind of “starting their franchise” in a crude sense.

And because many are starting out and have so little “business” sense, they end up making mistakes and having to restart their “student ministry franchise” in a new location. Which starts the process all over again.

And then, once a guy/gal finally gets “sustainable” they have kids in high school and need a better paying gig than student min

Anyway, I don’t know if that relates to pastors. And it definitely says a lot about the church, their reliance on hired hands, and our constant chasing after the newest and latest and greatest way of making disciples.

Appreciate you!

@ken – yeah, I get what you are saying. 2 important differences in your analogy though.

1. There’s a big difference between being the owner of a company and a paid staff member at a church. If the youth pastor at a church walks around thinking the whole thing depends on their _____ than they are screwed from day one. If you can get fired, you’re not an owner. If you don’t get paid this week if you don’t produce, you’re not an owner. 🙂
2. Gina Abbas has a great line in her book, “I’m a minister, not an administrator.” Your job in a culture is to model what walking with Jesus looks like. I think protestants have completely lost sight of this sacramental duty… and as a result we’ve lost a lot of influence in our culture. Jesus is calling us to a better life. We have to model that.

Yes. It’s a systems issue, isn’t it? I think the youth pastor THINKS that because the church that hires her THINKS that. The church hires the staffer to “do the ministry” and when they leave they hire another “pied piper”.

Many churches just hand over the keys until there are too many accidents. Then they go get a new person to drive the car. And you are right. Too many youth pastors think they own the car, when really they are just stewards of it.

And because they youth pastor loves what they are doing and believes in what they are doing, they pour their life into it because they don’t have someone else telling them “to get a life.”

Sounds like Gina’s book is a good read.

At JCC, where we both attend and serve, the average person comes 2 out of 5ish sundays. Some come 2x a year. Some come more. Some come less. But in the average 5 week teaching series, they’ll have heard maybe 1 or 2 of the messages on average. They all however use the same phrase to describe their church: “JCC is my church home.” For a full year after completely revamping the kid checkin system and moving the coffee cart to Journey Java, we had people asking us “when did they change this” and acting like it was last week. I had such a hard time telling them it was 9 months ago.

Yesterday at JCC and in conversations around town I had the following interactions:
1. “my parents don’t come on Charger game weekends”
2. “I had lacrosse”
3. from a family I ran into while picking up our kids from middle school camp “we went to the flea market instead”
4. from a family I play soccer with “we did laundry and watched football”

Are there legit reasons to not to attend “church” on the weekend? sure. I missed 3 sundays this last summer while camping with family. Maybe you travel for work. Maybe you have family to visit…. whatever, I’m not interested in being some kinda church attendance legalist.

however, what is “consistent” is widely varied and what it means to have a “church home” is at the level of ridiculous for most who call JCC “home”. When they spend 3 hours a month in “church” after arriving late, treat it like a consumer giving and investing nothing into the space, spend part of it on their cell…. it’s stupid to call that consistent or even really “attendance”. It’s not. It’s casual presence at best.

3 more thoughts:

1. Casual is good. We actually want people to attend 1x a year. Really. It’s not like anyone is going to guilt people into following Jesus. Come. Whenever. Hopefully something will click and you’ll want to truly invest your life with Jesus. Slapping people for being inconsistent does move them to healthy consistency or a life centered on Jesus.

2. Consistent is not the goal. A teen can come to everything our youth ministry does, serve every weekend in kid ministry, and be at all our events and still live like the older brother to the prodigal son…. super involved and intensely disconnected from Jesus. Perfect attendance awards are for school, not for markers of authentically following Jesus.

3. That said, people who “casually attend” are mostly “casual” about their connection with jesus. They are not rarely invested in to church community and then consistently being good news in their neighborhood. I’m sure we can find 10 examples where my previous statement is not true. I can give you 100 where it is. The normal “constant attender” is a casual attender and their faith, family, decisions, and honestly… their kids reflect that too. They give a low priority to faith or Jesus or church or whatever across the spectrum of their story.

That said, thanks for consistently investing in our small groups and for making JCC your church home in a way that is authentic and in my observation, consistent with being “invested” in our community.

ok…. I lied, I have one more thought… last week we had 9 babies dropped of to 2 volunteers. That’s a theological, sociological, and just plain safety problem. Consistent attender I guess has some value. But I’ll take less attendance and more investment every day. I think that has a 1000x better likelihood that I might have some “get it” factor. Maybe their gone half the weekends… but when they’re in church, they’re like a pillar of faithfulness and resources. I wish that was the problem. Sadly… it’s FAR from it. You mentioned that your perfect preaching sermon would be “less church life and more being the light”… The sermon I’d love to hear is “if you come less, do so because you invest more…. here and elsewhere” Tell me every time you aren’t “investing into our faith community in some capacity” it’s because you’re “intentionally investing Jesus into your community”. I wish the list of reasons I got from this weekend were:

1. I was serving water at the local 5k run.
2. I went to visit my grandparents in L.A. and left my cell phone at home on purpose.
3. I took my kids on vacation

sadly, that’s the rare exception.

Brian, well said, sir. Well said.

(Just one question, in this sentence: “Slapping people for being inconsistent does move them to healthy consistency or a life centered on Jesus.” Did you mean to write it as is, or did you mean to include a “not” between “does” and “move”?)

yeah whoops. I meant “does not move” I had this entire reply written once and then my browser refreshed and I lost it all. I wrote this reply 2x faster and well… whoops. Thanks for noticing that the statement was incongruent with my point.

I can appreciate what you’re saying. I don’t think Christianity is solely defined by the number of hours spent in the church building. Christians weren’t meant to live in a bubble. Is our goal to preach to the choir, or is it to brush up against the non-churched, hoping that a little bit of Jesus will rub off? Don’t we want them to realize that not all Christians have their own secret society?

I will say that this is the best blog relating to church attendance that I found so far! When growing up, we didn’t go to church that much. Later, when I became friends with someone at school when I was a teenager, she invited me to her church, then I joined. It wasn’t too long before things changed between us. Our friendship became about going to (her) church and every activity that came up. While it was okay at first to go to that church, I grew tired of going to that church because there was a frequent demand to be at church. Most of the reasons for needing to be there seemed petty. They would need me to go because it would be my turn to do ______, or it is my mom’s turn to drive. My friend’s mom was always so churchy and vocal about it. She would always preach to me about the need for going to church. Anytime I wasn’t going to church for a while, she would always ask me if I believe in God. I would say that I do. Then she would ask why I haven’t been going to church. If I would say that I work on Sundays, or even stayed at my grandparents for the weekend, she would always respond with “What is more important, work or God? “if you stayed at your grandparents, they could have gotten up to bring you to church.” So, what she was doing was judging me for how I spend my time.

Long story short, they were not perfect, but they seemed to have very little to apologize for. What I didn’t like about the people in this church is that they would always act as if day to day life did not matter because all that they needed to focus on was salvation. In one of the comments above, someone mentioned that the Protestant churches have fallen away from sacramental duty. I feel that he hit the nail on the head when I read that. I left my friend’s church and later started going to the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is different from the Protestant churches because of sacramental duty and traditions. The Catholic churches don’t push the community involvement as much as the Protestant churches do. I think that this is the case because the Catholic knows recognizes that all of us have a life outside of church. We have jobs, families, friends, hobbies, chores, and doing all of those things is a form of ministry. We are serving God in all that we do. That is an important point that I feel a lot of my Protestant friends overlook.

I do go to church on a regular basis. I know that when I converted to the Catholic faith, I was going every Sunday, rain or shine. Over time, I was figuring out how people in the parish communities interact. It is mostly families or those active in one or more ministries that have connections. I am not doing any ministry work in the church because I don’t feel comfortable with making a commitment where I must be at church at X time every Sunday, regardless. I just don’t want extra responsibility dropped on me or having to do favors without getting anything in return. I do have a life. But, the Catholic Church won’t push anyone into serving like the Protestant churches do. That is one of the reasons for going to the Catholic church other than the sacramental values and rich traditions. I do feel closer to God in the Catholic Church than I ever did in any Protestant church. In Protestant churches, I have seen it too many times where worship is just a formality. Worship is required once a month in order to be eligible for activity attendance. To me, that defeats the whole purpose. I have never felt connected to anyone in Protestant churches, no one has every shown an interest in what I do. It was a battleground of criticism and gossip. In the Catholic Churches, you can talk to a small group and it stays between them, they do not engage in gossip that often, that I am aware of. That is probably because with the size of parish communities, most of the people do not know each other.

Hey thanks for posting this. I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot and it’s one that confused me a little bit. I started going to church in college because I wanted to explore my faith (I wasn’t sure who God was and I was struggling with severe depression and anxiety but didn’t know it). I’m truly thankful for the community that I found and the counseling I received because it helped lead me to faith. But now that I’m out, I can’t say I really want to go to church anymore. I tried finding a community to go to but things just weren’t the same compared to my last one. The main thing though I was struggling with though was balancing life and church. So many people from my church community know each other and if you go to one service, you go to another service. I was constantly getting invites to attend this Bible study or attend so-and-so’s get together from five different churches. And sometimes, my friends would get really churchy. Like instead of going to a bar on Friday night (like most college students), we’d spend the evening watching a documentary about a nun. It was fun (I love my friends) but I always wondered what it would be like to do normal non-church activities

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