Monday, September 17, 2007

Churched out and unchurched

My wife, Terri, and I ate out twice in the last three days. At one of these meals we ate with a couple that is "churched out." At the other we ate with a couple that is unchurched.

On Saturday evening we dined with a couple that I am only just getting to know. They are 60-ish and very active in their church. During the meal the husband, who I will call Ed, said that he had a question for me: "How often should a Christian be expected to go to church?" He explained that he gets to church every Sunday morning a 8:00 a.m. for a weekly men's prayer breakfast, then there is Sunday School and worship, and, if he is lucky, he gets away by 12:30 p.m. Often Ed has Sunday afternoon church committee meetings before Sunday evening services which he attends faithfully.

On Tuesdays Ed's church sponsors a special worship service in the community for a group that is busy on Sunday mornings and he attends this service too. Wednesday evening means prayer meetng. Oh, and then there are the committee meetings on week nights.

Four worship services, Sunday School and a prayer breakfast every week plus a steady diet of committee meetings. Ed is a businessman and he has a family. He is also very active in at least two other Christian organizations outside of the church of which I am aware.

Ed is feeling "churched out," and I don't blame him. Maybe I shouldn't have, but I told him exactly what I thought about his church involvement: "That's too much."

This evening my wife and I had dinner with a couple in their 20's that almost never goes to chruch. I read an article not too long ago about a study indicating that people in this age group are leaving church in droves. But, of course, the unchurched population is not limited to 20-somethings. According to some 3-year old numbers from The Barna Group, there are 75 million unchurched adults in this country and the average age of those in this group is 41. An unchurched person according to Barna's definition is one who "has not attended a Christian church service within the past six months, not including a holiday service (such as Easter or Christmas) or a special event at a church (such as a wedding or funeral)." Far below Ed's standards.

So what is the answer to Ed's question? How often should a Christian be expected to go to church? I know that Hebrews 1o:25 says that Christians are not to neglect gathering together as some are in the habit of doing, but how often are we to gather? Luke 4:16 tells us that it was Jesus' custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath, but I wonder if he went to as many worship services in a week as Ed does?

I don't think there are any simple biblical formulas for determining how often Christians should go to church. If Jesus' example is important to you, and I hope it is, then church services should be the custom of his followers as synagogue services were his custom. Exactly how many times a week should you go to church? I don't know, but I think it should be more than the couple we dined with tonight and probably less than Ed and his wife.

I have a thought on this, but before I give it to you I need to redefine a word. In my faith tradition to be "churched" is to be kicked out of church. I never liked that term. I hereby redefine "churched" in its verbal form to mean getting someone in church instead of getting kicked out of church. In its noun form "churched" is the opposite of "unchurched." Got it?

I do think we should be careful not to encourage the churched to get "churched out" like Ed. I wonder if one way to get the unchurched churched is by not "churching out" the churched. Maybe by not over churching the churched, the churched will have more time and energy to church the unchurched.

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