This past Easter I was reminded of something I’d heard of most of my life but hadn’t spent much time observing—some people only attend church worship services at Easter and Christmas. This year I really watched for it. Sure enough, there was an influx of unfamiliar faces from somewhere. While I don’t have an official count, I could tell our pews had much fewer empty seats than non-holiday Sundays.
Why are you here?
At first, I thought maybe there were several families in my church that were hosting relatives from out of town. No, that didn’t seem to be it, at least not the ones I spoke with. During the meet and greet, I watched the regular attendees from my church seek out these new faces to welcome them. The newcomers weren’t much for small talk.
After the service ended, most of the irregular church attendees quickly dispersed to the parking lot. I thought about running after some of them and yelling, “See you at the Christmas Eve service!”, but that seemed inappropriate. I didn’t dare ask why they showed up just this Sunday. I did want them to come back, after all!
Is it for entertainment?
It made me wonder why people who only attend church at Easter and Christmas bother to come at all. Is it for the special music? Is it to be seen in public wearing their fineries during the biggest holidays of the year?
Is it to be reminded of things they forgot that they believe about Jesus—that he was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died for our sins, raised himself from the dead and ascended into Heaven until he comes again? Did they ever know that about him?
Is it for appearances?
I posted an unofficial survey to my Facebook friends earlier this week asking those who attend some kind of Christian church only at Easter and Christmas—or know those who do—to explain why.
The chorus of crickets was deafening! Nobody at all responded. Maybe people are uncomfortable to talk about this kind of thing or they don’t care what the reasons are or they haven’t really thought about it. That’s fair. I’m the one that brought this up, after all.
Is it for tradition?
Perhaps people who only make church appearances at Easter and Christmas don’t even know why they do it. Maybe their family has been doing it for generations and they like to keep traditions. I certainly have kept the church traditions that my family has passed down the line, mostly.
Some people might not know much about God but do know that Easter and Christmas hold special meaning for those in the Christian tradition, so they come check it out. It could be that some people in this category become regular attendees after visiting a church for the first time on one of these Holy days. I hope there are many like that!
Is it out of guilt?
I’ve heard that some people go to church out of guilt. But why? Why do they feel guilty about showing up twice a year to church? Is it because they feel they should go every week but don’t? Do their parents or somebody else make them feel guilty for not going to church, and they think they can make up for missing church all year by going at Easter and Christmas? Who or what is causing them to feel guilt?
Is it for God?
Does God cause us to feel guilty for missing church services? I don’t see how. What would be the point? It is for our benefit, not God’s, that we go to church. There is nothing we can do to add to or take away from God’s happiness. We can neither hurt God by avoiding church nor help him by going to church.
If I’m wrong, somebody will have to explain to me how a timeless, spaceless, immaterial, eternal being can be affected by one of his creatures missing church. I believe he wants us to be there for our good. I don’t believe God is keeping a cosmic counter for how often we go to church and how often we stay home or go elsewhere.
I’ll tell you why!
So, why attend church at all? I feel qualified to give some reasons why people should attend church because I, too, have been one of those people who hasn’t always gone to church services regularly. It took the gentle but specific nudging of the Holy Spirit several years ago to remind me that I called myself a Christian. But it was only nominal.
I thought that I was one of those “spiritual” people who didn’t need to be fed the Word of God every week in a church community to keep my “Christian” label. I had studied theology in college and knew that I could worship God by myself outside enjoying nature or wherever I happened to be. It wasn’t important to me to worship with fellow believers every week. But I was fooling myself.
The fellowship of believers
My life at that time was characterized more by the rotting fruit of the flesh than the life-giving fruit of the spirit. At best I was getting spiritual milk when what I needed was spiritual meat. I probably spent more time with people who either didn’t believe in God or hated him than with those who love him. And it showed in my daily walk.
Maybe you are like that. You believe you can find God in a quiet place and have enough spiritual food to make it through the week. It’s possible. You might have enough theological understanding that you don’t need to listen to sermons every week. Can I suggest that even if this is true, it is still also important to worship with fellow believers?
You might not learn any new theology, but you will be among people who share your beliefs about God. Besides being encouraged by kindred spirits and having your spiritual batteries recharged, you might have your courage renewed to continue living outwardly as a Christian in a world increasingly hostile to Christianity.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV) has this to say about worshiping with other Christians:
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Why does it matter?
Have I wasted time talking about this? Possibly. Do I need to know the reasons why people go to church on some Sundays but not on others? Nope. Do I need to be warm and welcoming and doing my part to share the truth in love about God with all those I come into contact with? Yep! From my point of view, it doesn’t really matter why people show up at church. I just need to love them as God loves them when they do.
Why wouldn’t people attend a church where they can hear every week the good news that Christ paid for their sins and gave them his righteousness in return? Granted, not all churches teach the same thing. Not every church preaches the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ regularly. Do yourself a favor. Find a solid Bible-believing church that does preach the gospel weekly. Go and recharge your spiritual batteries each Sunday as I’ve learned to do.