Not the seed. It's the soil.
In thirty five years of pastoral ministry I've heard just about every complaint humans can devise about church. They were usually alibis about inactivity, a family nearing drop-out status, or justification for declining attendance patterns. The ones most often repeated usually followed one of these well-worn trails---
1. I'm not being fed in my small group.
2. The church is a poor fit for our family,
3. The worship service isn't engaging us.
4. There aren't enough activities for our children.
5. We haven't really gotten to know anyone.
Demographers doing credible research about church attendance indicate that many people walk away from church life today because their role in the mission/ministry of the local congregation has become tedious and perhaps boring. In many ways this occurs because church has become an extension of the nine-to-five workday, with work being the action word here. Their work in the church has resulted in another layer of heavy drudgery they must shoulder every day. So, drop out, catch a small group in the neighborhood, tune in the Podcast, or watch the television guys as a faith alternative. A secular culture that normalizes the idea of nominal Christians (that is, Christians in name only) will certainly legitimatize spiritual ideals that challenge the religiosity of going to church. I mean, today spirituality is portable. Only shallow religious people will be confined by the rigid expectation of church attendance or involvement.
One incident comes to mind and is perhaps definitive of the others. A very promising young couple professed faith and received believers baptism to become new members of our growing church. They were instantly involved, interested, and invested in the mission of our church (yes, three alliterated points). Months later, however, their attendance declined substantially. When I approached them they said that their small group leader just wasn't feeding them. I asked if the teacher was faithfully teaching the Bible and they replied with certainty, yes. So I took them to the Parable of the Sower (see Luke 8: 4-15 and parallels) and asked what the problem was in that lesson according to Jesus. Certainly, there was no problem with the seed that was being sown. If it did not take root it was because the soil was not properly prepared. Well, that truth angered and embarrassed them and they left the church even after much encouragement and care.
The point is that if our church work has become drudgery it is most likely because something has interrupted the blessing and joy that should accompany our service to Christ. It's true, serving faithfully involves points of work-like tedium, repetition, preparation, schedules, and commitment of our resources. Many of the church concepts we applaud most ring with work like fervor---serving, mission, helping, encouraging, making disciples, producing fruit, building the Kingdom---and so many others requiring time, effort, scheduling, and group process. Honestly, there's also frustration, disappointment, impatience, envy, and all of the other human foibles and emotions that make communication, problem solving, relational stress, unrealized expectations, and more posssible. Being all-in at church may create a work-place atmosphere that saps energy and resources without anticipated outcomes. With the information super highway a click away, many moderns just ask, "what's the use" when making church decisions
Of course, that's not a biblical perspective about Christian service. The Psalmist expectantly served the Lord with gladness and celebrated the joys and blessings of worship, Bible study, meditation, prayer, fellowship, and learning. Scroll through the Epistles of the New Testament for a broad view of the blessings that should attend our commitments to a local congregation. You know, being an inter-dependent part of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12), the approximately fifty-one "one another" passages that express the blessings of being a part of this spiritual body, the hope and peace promised to faithful servants of Christ, the realization of an abundant life right now, the assurance of faith in a very hazardous world. And, more. Being the Bride of Christ must be considered a genuine blessing.
Wednesday we'll examine the forces that reduce the blessings of faith to mere drudgery. Today, however, let's get back to the sower, seed, and soil mentioned earlier. Yes, the religious landscape in America these days indicates lower church attendance among the professed Christian population. It is a notable statistic for many reasons. At the top of the list is the drudgery church has become to may believers. So, is there something wrong or missing in the biblical concept of the church? No, of course not. Jesus said, " I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it"
(Matthew 16: 18, ESV). Surely we can put a human touch on things and create chaos in just about any situation. But, the truth is, if church has become drudgery it's back to the soil thing. That is, it's the hearts of God's people that reduce these blessings to drudgery. Paul wrote about detecting it----
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not
realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet
2 Corinthians 13: 5, ESV
If the biblical practice of your faith has become drudgery, perhaps there should be a little self-examination or spiritual inventory. Interested? Click here for a great personal spiritual inventory by LifeWay.