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An empty church

Sunday morning is sometimes a Sunday morning decision

We love our clichés in the church, don’t we? Pithy statements that have some truth to them, and are often shared to be an encouragement in some way. But because of their overuse, many are insufferable. One of those, shared nearly every Saturday night on the social internet by a church leader somewhere, is: Sunday morning is a Saturday night decision.

Yes, gathering really does matter

The big idea is that if church matters, then we should be there. Don’t leave the decision to the last minute. Commit to being present with your church every week; don’t treat it as optional.

Yes, and amen. I totally agree with that.

We should be committed to this; in our home, we are. We used to live 4 minutes by car from where our church gathers. Our default was to be there. We now live 35 minutes from where our church gathers. Our default is still to be there. When COVID shut down our in-person gatherings, we watched the message online. After, we jumped onto the church zoom call whatever semblance of interactive fellowship we could muster. When we had the opportunity to go back to meeting in person, we were there the first Sunday. We wore our masks when the school required us. Had they required us to wear hazmat suits, we would have.

Gathering really matters to us. It is rare for me to meet a Christian who doesn’t feel the same way. We know that it isn’t just something we should do. We know that it is good for us. But even so, there are times when Sunday morning is a decision. But rarely is that decision a Saturday night one. It is, more often than not, a Sunday morning one.

When Sunday morning is a Sunday morning decision

There are some astoundingly not-complicated but valid reasons to not be at church on Sunday morning, of course. Illness is not something we’ve ever taken lightly, but living through a pandemic has made us a bit more careful in this regard. If one of us is sick, some or all of us stay home. I’m the sole driver in our home as well, which means that when I’m out of town for work, the rest of the family won’t be able to attend quite so easily.1 There have also been rare times where Emily and I have both felt compelled that our worship of the Lord needed to be focused on caring for specific families in our church—running errands and so forth.

Then there are some more complex reasons that we’ve experienced. We had a situation in early 2017 that forced us to seek a new church.2 Every Sunday was a decision—not just to get in the car and go somewhere, but to get out of the car when we arrived at our destination. Even after we landed at the church we now call home; it was months before we weren’t pushing ourselves out the door.

This experience is, sadly, not at all uncommon. Some people who dearly love Jesus struggle to be in a local church setting because of social anxiety. Others struggle because they’ve experienced some form of abuse within a church setting, spiritual, psychological, or sexual.3

Eliminating Christian clichés through gospel culture

I’m a big believer in this idea of gospel culture, the idea that what we believe about the gospel will shape how we live together. While the heart behind a cliché like “Sunday morning is a Saturday night decision” isn’t necessarily wrong, it misses the mark because the already convinced don’t need convincing. They are already going to be there. But among those who struggle, those who are burdened and heavy-laden, it creates or increases a sense of guilt and shame within them.

So if we, as gospel people, are committed to gospel culture, how can we support those people, the ones for whom Sunday morning is a Sunday morning decision?

Stop using this cliché. Seriously, it’s okay to just stop. Using clichés like this doesn’t help people love Jesus more and doesn’t really say that we love people. So rather than undermining gospel culture, let’s stop saying things like this.

Practice what we preach. A gospel culture needs to be a place of safety for people, one marked by the kind of love 1 John 4:8 describes. We need to give people, especially vulnerable and hurting people, time to see that it’s true. That means asking questions of people that we don’t see as often as we’d like. Being empathetic and compassionate, bearing one another’s burdens to whatever degree the Lord enables us.

That’s really the long and short of it. In practice, it actually takes a lot of work, but it is also pretty simple. We don’t need to convince one another about the importance of church attendance with clichés. That doesn’t work anyway. Instead, as people who wonder if God even cares see that God’s people care, the barriers that make Sunday morning a struggle will slowly come down. And over time, they may find that our churches are for them too—a place where they are genuinely welcome because of the gospel.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

  1. It should be noted that we’ve had people go out of their way to come and get Emily and the kids; that is incredible. ↩︎
  2. I’ll write about this someday, but for now, let me state emphatically: it had nothing to do with the church that we had to leave. The church we attended for our first 5+ months in Tennessee was so kind to us; I continue to be grateful for them and their ministry. ↩︎
  3. Sadly, just as birds of a feather flock together, where one of these forms of abuse is present in a church, it’s highly likely that the others are present as well. ↩︎
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