Church attendance has drastically declined since the COVID-19 pandemic flipped the world upside down. At the onset of the pandemic, one in three Christians stopped going to church. In 2020, church membership dropped under 50 percent, with most Americans expressing no religious affiliation. Today, church services have about 70 percent capacity, a far cry from the 91 percent who planned to return.
These figures lead you to question the value of in-person church attendance. During the lockdown, our calendars and to-do lists were empty. As we’re transitioning to a new standard and being intentional about the activities we participate in, going to church isn’t at the top of the list for some. But why is that?
Some think the decentralization of the church indicates a future of meeting in small groups in a member’s home instead of in a church building, and we should accept plummeting attendance as a sign of the times. Other people say that virtual services make in-person churches antiquated. However, communal worship has clear benefits you can’t get through other means. A recent study in Christianity Today concluded that people “find their social and persona lives improved when they go to church often.” This stat is in addition to the data showing fewer cases of suicide, depression, and overdose among churchgoers.
If you or someone you know has become uninterested in in-person church attendance, here are some ways to get the most out of your church experience while benefiting your spiritual, mental, and social health.
Change your perspective.
Admittedly, most of us attend church intending to be filled, given, or fed a memorable experience. Instead, what if we walked in intending to pursue relationships, find belonging, and learn how to love different types of people? Rather than kneeling at the altar searching for answers to our prayers, what if we knelt before God to know Him? We find peace and joy when we focus on fellowship with God and trust Him to meet our needs instead of focusing on getting what we want.
When we go to church with an attitude of admiration for God and an expectancy that we’ll hear from Him, our perspective shifts. Instead of evaluating the service by the sermon or the worship songs, you’ll start to focus on how God showed up. God speaks through our pastors and priests, regardless of their persuasiveness.
Prepare for worship.
A more significant part of why people have become indifferent to church attendance is that we’re in a frenzy when we choose to go, carrying the weight of the world through the doors. Our minds are focused on other things, and our hearts aren’t ready for worship. No wonder we leave church empty like God didn’t speak to us and others didn’t see us. Consider getting to church 10 minutes early to pray instead of walking in midway through service. 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” To humble ourselves before God, we must give our anxieties to Him and quiet our minds to hear Him.
Our worlds have become accustomed to distractions that we’ve forgotten how to drown out the noise. Busyness has consumed our lives, and we’ve forgotten how to be still and spend time with God. In the biblical story of Samuel, notice how Samuel didn’t hear from God while helping in the tabernacle or scrolling through Instagram; he heard from God while resting.
Make an effort.
Another reason you should get to church early is to connect and fellowship with other church members. Humans are relational beings created in God’s image. We’re born with the natural desire to belong. The church gives us a community where we can interact with and develop our gifts for the betterment of God’s Kingdom in a way we can’t do online.
As members of the church body, we’re responsible for showing up and serving while exercising our spiritual gifts to enhance the lives of people around us. When we miss church, we don’t get the opportunity to minister, where it’s an encouraging word, kind gestures, or letting someone know you’re glad to see them.
If you aren’t feeling connected with your church home, try looking for ways to get involved. You could join Bible study, greet people at the door, participate in a ministry, or teach Sunday school. Research the different possibilities and find what’s right for you. Getting involved will help you get plugged into a social group and pull you toward spiritual and personal growth.
Bring a Bible and a notepad.
Research shows that people only remember up to 10 percent of what they hear through spoken communication. This means that if you’re 100 percent focused on the pastor’s words, you’ll still forget most of what you heard before leaving. In comparison, we remember 80 percent of what we see and do, so if you’re writing down key points and sharing the information through conversation, you can change how we live.
Bringing a notepad shows God that you believe His word so much that you’re willing to write it down, listen for how He wants you to apply it, and use it in your life. Pulling out your phone to look up scripture verses can shift your attention from what God says. The enemy wants us to be distracted, but we must resist the temptation by bringing our Bibles, inviting God to speak through His Word, and taking notes to remember.
Going to church requires us to simplify our schedules so we can prioritize regular times for worship. We must be still and silent before God so He can complete His transformational work in our lives. The disciplines of silence, stillness, communal worship and simplicity lay the foundation for spiritual growth. If you put these ways to get the most out of church into practice, you’ll develop a deeper relationship with others and God. The Spirit will change your indifference into a desire to know Him intimately and honor Him. Attending church can be an uplifting experience if you put in the work.