“Wot!? Every Week?!” A Missionary Concern

A few weeks back I went into Sir Charles Gardiner Hospital for a sleep study. That’s where they wire you up with about a thousand electrodes and then make observations on how you sleep during the night.

It was in response to this dilemma, which was particularly bad around this time last year. I still have ‘period leg movement disorder’ but its not as frequent. (For a couple of months Danelle and I slept in separate beds!)

Anyway, I arrived at 7.00pm with my copy of Simon’s book, God Next Door and a bottle of red. (I figured I might need a bit of anaesthetic to actually sleep with all those electrodes stuck to me…)


Fortunately I wasn’t the first one to get rigged up, because once you’re wired you can’t sit up or move around. I read thru to around 8pm when ‘Jill’ came in.

Now sometimes I just grunt politely thru these experiences, because I know I will probably never see the person again and I don’t have the energy for a genuine conversation, but tonight I felt like chatting and I was also aware it would take at least an hour to get wired, so I might as well get to know the person. Jill also seemed to want to talk…

And it was a much more interesting conversation than I had bargained for, partly because Jill was a Notre Dame Uni grad, had studied theology and was in a place in life where she was feeling the tug of God on her life. Jill was 23 years old, her mum had started attending church recently and had been ‘born again’. Now she was trying to get Jill to attend also – a large ‘Word of Faith’ church in Perth. Jill was intrigued by God, was curious about my book, was feeling she ought to go to church even though her partner wanted nothing to do with it all, but was struggling to come to terms with it all.

When I asked her what held her back do you know what it was?

“I am worried they might expect me to front up every week.’

Now get this – because its important – this is what some people feel – probably more than we know.

I might have to be there every week for the rest of my life!

Quite honestly, I would ask much more of Jill than a weekly meeting, but the sheer notion of somehow getting caught up in something she couldn’t get out of, worried her. The thought of a regular weekly commitment was disturbing a young 23 year old. I don’t think that would be abnormal for someone like her. Its a comment that is worth paying attention to, especially for those of us who have grown up believing weekly church attendance to be a fairly normal thing to do.

I don’t think there is anywhere in society where we make a weekly commitment and follow thru on it for the rest of our lives. (I realise that for many these days ‘regular church attendance’ is fortnightly or even every 3 weeks.)

When I say I would ask much more than a weekly meeting, I mean that I would be asking Jill to become committed to a community of people – to go way beyond fronting up once a week and to form significant give & take relationships. That is even harder and at times it makes me despair for the future of a faith that is inherently communal. (I really don’t believe you can live the life Jesus calls us to outside of a faith community.)

Jill explained that she probably would go to church with her mum (on her birthday) but her apprehension was clear. I wonder how many more are like her?

It makes me wonder how (if) we can re-calibrate community life so that there is genuine connectivity, authentic discipleship and significant relationships, but without the necessity of a weekly meeting…

In his book Liquid Church, Pete Ward argues for this kind of community, deeply committed, but also fluid. But then Ward also suggests we ‘play to’ consumerism and try and make the best of it rather than fight it…

I tend to feel that if we do away with a regular weekly gathering, then, because of the ridiculous busyness of the world we live and our own laziness and inbuilt disposition towards individualism, the chances are we would quickly fragment. In a perfect world we would all live close, hang out and have deep relationships, but in the real world of suburbia it just doesn’t happen like that.

So, I will continue to hold up a weekly gathering as a bare minimum for what we expect of people who call themselves a Christian community. But honestly if that’s all it amounts it to – if that is the best we can do – then I have lost all hope.

By the way my period leg movement has been defined as ‘idiopathic’, in other words – “we haven’t got a bloody clue what causes it…”

12 thoughts on ““Wot!? Every Week?!” A Missionary Concern

  1. It’s an interesting point.

    We certainly do live in a time where people won’t commit readily. Getting people to RSVP to an event even a few days out can be a problem. Many would prefer to wait until the day before to see if they ‘get a better offer’.

    To give up every ‘Sunday morning’ for the rest of someone’s life would be a scary thought.

    Even more of a concern is that we’ve convinced the population that being a Christian is about going to a meeting once a week.

  2. Yes – its a real tight corner!

    I often hear people say ‘you don’t have to go church to be a Christian’ and of course they are right in one sense…

    But I can’t see a faith that is ‘non-communal’ in the Bible.

    So people go to one meeting a week to cover themselves… and meanwhile our understanding of discipleship dives even further.

    This issue puzzles me and frustrates the hell out of me!

  3. One we all struggle with Hamo. On the positive side, for those who are already in the fold, the fact that at least some make a weekly commitment (or two or three times weekly!) is encouraging because even those superficial contacts can maintain a connection that might otherwise be lost (although if the contacts are mid-week they have the opportunity to go much deeper). But you’re right, the issue isn’t meeting, the issue is community, and meeting is an important part of that. It also helps to build rhythm into our communal and personal walk.

    But it’s a scary proposition for outsiders. Without arguing about the form, maybe the demanding nature of Christian community is just one of those things that we have to accept will drive people away. Like the cross and repentance, it’s just part of the deal and not everyone will accept it.

  4. I guess you are seeking to acheive ‘Committment’ rather than ‘Routine’.

    Weekly attendance was certainly a feature of my youth and while I did not question it at first I know I resented the sameness of the pattern each week.

    Some people are comfortable with routine – I am to a certain extent, but not that much.

    Add to that a more questioning approach to my own faith at the time and all of a sudden you find it very easy to make excuses why you can’t go to church – perhaps it is the ‘going to’ rather than ‘being part of’ that is an issue and at certain points in life people can be tired of both aspects.

    Is it important that people attend regular services – or is this just a habit. I would understand that from the perspective of learning and living a faith this might be the case but how often is this translated to just something that occurs each Sunday?

  5. Its the catch 22.

    In a busy world no regular gathering means people probably won’t connect significantly, because of our laziness etc.

    But then others will see a Sunday gathering and a weekly meeting as THE objective and will seek to fulfill that.

    I think – as Grendel says – Sunday attendance can be a habit – but maybe there are habits worth developing? Even if they collide with/sabotage our better ideals…

    Its when they become ends in themselves (as has happened for so many) that they become destructive.

    People often expect church to be a community, but aren’t as committed to making it what they desire.

    i reckon one of the best measures of the type of community we have is the level of incidental contact – rather than planned formal contact.

    I tend to think thatas it increases there is more genuine community. Even if its online!

  6. regular attendance looks so different depending on what context you are framing your ideas. Now that we don’t attend a weekly sunday service we look to our regular connection with those from our faith community.

    But to be honest, we had regular connections beyond sunday services when we were attached to the old church (small groups, dinners, lunches, sports teams, hobby groups) – as do most people inside them still. However, people inside (or more importantly, the people running these ships) don’t often validate these “other” regular connections as church commitment without the regular service attendance included.

    I think that people, at some stage of their life, recognise and respond to having an inherent deep sense of longing for true connection (relationally and spiritually). However, I’m not sure we all are wired to satisfy that in the same way.

    For eg. we have some guys in our group who feel very connected to our faith community, but attend sporadically – they have good relational connectedness at their workplace, and within their family, and adding another weekly attendance to the pile is life-exhausting for them, some weeks. We trust that these people are able to access our group when ever they need to, and we rejoice in their attendance as well as their sense of freedom to not attend when they don’t need to.

    I think i worried about setting attendance requirements a lot when i was charged with leadership of the church. I wonder if this need for people to attend is not somehow implicitly complicated within the mind/ego of a leader, rather than the actual needs of the attendees????

  7. I think there is something in the whole creation story, the Rhythm of seven days, the seventh day being for ‘rest’ for spiritual contemplation.

    If ‘church attendance’ is a drag…then why would you want to go? As a youngster I resented church because it was boring, not because I had to go every week.

    Why do people pay money and sign up to be a Football club member when it means they have to attend a football game every second weekend? They do this because they feel part of something greater that themself, its fun, its exciting.

    There is something of intrinsic value, spiritual value, in a weekly meeting….to me its part of a healthy rhythm of life. Similar to how its part of a healthy life to get up and make yourself a good coffee and toast.

    As well, there seems to be an assumption that since your nurse friend thinks this, we should accept it….No….I think Christianity should challenge the culture….not just on this level, but on an even more primary level…that of personal selfishness.

  8. Knowing you are a Dockers supporter I will avoid the potential laughter at your expense Mark (“its fun and exciting”)

    A few thoughts:

    Matt – I reckon you may be exceptional in your regular connecting with others. My observation is that most people (esp with families) don’t connect regularly. But – it can be done – as you show.

    I would be more like the guys who can feel connected with minimal contact – but then I also know that I need to be there for others – so its where the ‘what i need’ idea comes udone.

    Mark – I am agreeing that discipleship should challenge selfishness, but given that we find it hard to get anywhere with those who consider themselves ‘in the game’, I wonder how we move new/non believers along the track.

    I also think that part of commitment to others is being there when its a drag. We go thru those periods – sometimes for a short time and sometimes for a longer time. One person’s drag is anothers enjoyment even. So it has to be beyond what I get out of it – while acknowledging that this is going to be a key motivator.

  9. As your ministry and associates aptly point out, the regular church meeting is like a period at the end of a sentence. If I don’t genuinely care about Jesus or his family, it’s hard for me to truly want to meet with his family. If there is no genuine fellowship, if there is no need for encouragement and challenge along our common mission, the fellowship is reduced to a concert where I am only there to be entertained. If my brother or sister in Christ doesn’t truly need me and if I don’t need them, then why should I come and pretend?

    If we share in a mission where we truly need one another and rely on God’s grace (providence), then we will never feel the need to drag ourselves to yet another church meeting.

    The problem is not only a lack of a shared mission, but a false message that our weekly meetings are the primary function of our churches. Many churches require people to only attend a couple of Sundays a year in order to be a member in good standing. Many churches focuses most of its energy on its weekly meeting.

    It is clear that Jesus and His disciples enjoyed their times together, but that was enhanced by what they were doing when they were out and about carrying out the will of the Father.

  10. Chalk another one up to Augustinianism and the ol’ theatre model of church.

    I have to say that as a moving ‘Christian professional’ – I feel the same wariness as Jill at times.

    The fear betrays the what people perceive as the central connection point of Australian churches. For those whose traditions and habits make the Sunday service indispensable – then all this makes sense.

    Just the existence of number counts at some services support Grendel’s notions of services as commitment gauges. The description Sunday morning ‘service’ says enough. I think we’d do well to move more toward an organic gathering concept than a service.

  11. Here at The Crowded House we’re trying to elevate the rest of our lives together to the level of the weekly meeting, rather than bring the meeting down to the level of the rest of our lives. We’re doing this by ensuring that the rest of our lives is spent “gospelling” one another. Just had “church” tonight and the bloke who hosted it tonight, along with his wife, were the most reluctant to join our household plant of any of our crew. Busyness was the chief factor. But his comment tonight was telling – we like what we’re doing together, but it’s not enough any more, we’d like more community.

    BTW – “idiopathic” sounds like something you have – and only you have.

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