“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
We travel a lot and oftentimes find ourselves in a different city on Sunday. Not wanting to miss church, we attend a local service. Sometimes it is a Catholic Mass or a Protestant church. Though we are Methodists, we are Christians first and enjoy the variety of the various denominations we encounter.
On a recent Sunday, we attended a Catholic Mass. From the moment we walked in, we felt a wave of hope and genuine Christian goodwill. The congregation was varied and represented all ages.
Upon reflection, I noticed the priest was unusually inviting. It was evident in his manner of talking and the way he recognized people in the pews. It was his flock to serve, and he took this responsibility full fold. He smiled and was humble in how he spoke. His message about the Gospel wasn’t diluted but was delivered in a hopeful and encouraging manner. He cared, and the people in attendance cared as well. If only every service was as skillfully and joyously delivered as this one, perhaps more people would attend church.
Today, only 20 percent of Americans regularly attend church, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. And each year, fewer and fewer attend. Since 1967, church attendance has fallen by 1 to 3 percent every year, leaving many churches out of money and unable to survive. In fact, some of our existing denominations may no longer exist by 2030.
Amazing statistics, when you think that just a few decades ago, going to church was part of most family rituals. It makes me wonder if the exhaustion and frustration the majority of Americans feel today is correlated with this lack of church attendance.
As I discovered, most Americans claim they are tired of gun deaths, mean-spirited politicians, and a lack of quality news outlets. Fully 70 percent of Americans describe themselves as exhausted, resulting in a new American phenomenon called the “Exhausted Majority.”
I think going to church could help. According to Pew Research, 80 percent who attend church on a regular basis claim they feel closer to God when they attend.
Remarkably, even with this low attendance, 90 percent of Americans believe in a higher power, and 70 percent profess to be Christian, according to Pew Research. These statement of faith are not much different then what existed in 1967. So why the decline, when churches make us feel better by bringing us closer to God and help our children develop a faith life?
Pew Research states that 44 percent of those who don’t attend church find a connection with God in other ways, like through social media, books, church at home, or daily Bible readings. Another group doesn’t attend because they feel the message is diluted or because they see the church as not living up to its values.
However, I feel that going to church on a regular basis will dim the effect that crazy headlines have upon us. We will move from being discouraged to hopeful. No longer will our dinner discussions focus on the inane ways of the world but will instead center on the ways of God.
So how do we find a church? It will probably require a visit to a few churches to find one that speaks to you. Here are some helpful tips to know if you were in the right place:
- Did you feel closer to God after attending?
- Was there a mix of people of all ages and backgrounds?
- Do they have small group Bible studies?
- Do they have outreach programs?
- Was the pastor inviting and caring?
If you can answer yes to all these questions, then you might have found a church to attend.
Many people pick their church based on their past denominational affiliation. That may be a tough way to find a church. Denominational selection should be a secondary consideration, as all churches that strive to be a wonderful place of worship believe and support Jesus’s two commandments: “Love thy God and love thy Neighbor.”
Church is a wonderful place to reconnect with God. To sustain this relationship, there are other things we can do, such as:
- Read the Bible daily. This will help draw you to the ways of God and away from the ways of the world. Heck, if you read the Bible just fifteen minutes a day, you can complete the Bible in a year.
- Pray continuously. Every morning, speak to God about your day. Express your dreams and worries. Then patiently watch the answers you get throughout the day and into the coming week. God will answer.
- Serve Others. Make helping others a priority. Perhaps through your church or a non-profit. You will feel better when you have helped others. It is part of the human condition—when we enact goodwill toward others, we feel better about ourselves.
- Read about other Christians. There is no better way to change from despair to hope than spending time discovering positive people who have been great Christian leaders. Change how you spend your leisure time, and make it a time of discovery.
In my book, Your Faith Has Made You Well, I talk about moving away from the lure of dramatic headlines to developing a strong faith. When we begin focusing on our relationship with God and our neighbors, we develop an improved sense of well-being. We move our focus to what we can control and to God. Our world brightens, and we begin to feel more fulfilled.
Sure, many are exhausted, but they don’t have to be. We can only change what we spend our time on. And perhaps focusing on God will become a ripple that makes the world a better place. When we come closer to God, we become optimistic and unburdened.
Maybe today is the day we leave the world behind. Attending church is a good start.
Dr. Bruce L Hartman, Christian Author and Story Teller. A former Fortune 500 CFO who left the corporate world to engage in a ministry of “Connecting The Lessons of the Gospels to the Modern Life.” His life mission is “Helping People Walk into a Brighter Future.”