Hebrews 10:23-25 (ESV) 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 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.
For two thousand years, Christians have regularly gathered together as members of the body of Christ, which is the Church. Whether they gathered in secret, during times of persecution, or in public, in times of freedom, they gathered. Whether it was during a plague, or a time of prosperity, they gathered. Indeed, it was usually during times of persecution or plague that the church grew the most.
Not today. Even before COVID-19, church attendance in America had been in decline. Since COVID, an even more precipitous plunge in church engagement has taken place. I’m emphasizing the word “engagement” here because this is not about whether one attends in-person or online. It’s about whether or not they are truly engaged with fellow believers in the church. For one can attend in-person and never fully engage with the worship, the fellowship, nor the ministry of serving others. Sure, actually attending in-person makes engagement easier, but not automatic. It takes more personal effort to engage online, but it is possible.
However, by and large, online engagement isn’t really happening. Listen to these sobering results from The Barna Group’s latest survey of churches in the US (Barna’s survey refers to online attendance only):
“Amid the pandemic, churches were forced to shut their doors and begin streaming Sunday services online. The switchover was well-received by some, but unpopular with others. Research has revealed that one in three practicing Christians has stopped attending church services.
The poll conducted last week by the research firm found:
- 35 percent are still attending their pre-COVID church.
- 32 percent are no longer attending church.
- 14 percent have switched to a new church.
- And 18 percent are watching worship services from different churches each month.
Barna’s research showed a pattern between the different generations of practicing Christians who attend church online.
- 50 percent of Millennials have stopped attending church.
- 17 percent of Generation X attend a new church.
- 40 percent of Baby Boomers stayed at the same church.”
To many, online Church attendance has become like watching any other program. It’s a passive watching for the sake of personal preference and enjoyment. This approach is not engagement with other believers for mutual edification, but self-edification. Some choose their favorite worship music from one online site, then switch to a different site for their favorite preacher, and call it church. But it isn’t. Because while the church is not the steeple, it is the people. It doesn’t have to meet in a building, but it does have to meet together somewhere for the spiritual health and obedience of its members.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that church engagement has fallen severely post-COVID. Online engagement is harder. And as a result, church members are struggling not only spiritually, but emotionally and physically as well.
Active engagement means joining the online service while it is streaming live. It means actually singing the worship songs, taking sermon notes, completing an online Connection Card, making an online offering and engaging others on social media. It also means being part of a Community Group during the week where mutual edification can be practiced even more deeply. It means serving one another according to one’s gifting and the needs of others.
And the needs are great. In fact, they are growing because of the consequences of COVID stay-at-home orders, racial tensions, the caustic political climate, the economic downturn, etc.
In a recent article by the Religion News Service, Jamie Aten, director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, is quoted saying that congregations must prepare to help people deal with a wide range of mental health challenges as never before. The article goes on to say:
“And the challenges that existed before the coronavirus haven’t just gone away, according to Aten. Those include depression, anxiety, grief and addictions, as well as child abuse and domestic violence. ‘The pandemic is compounding those mental health struggles and amplifying them, plus creating new mental health struggles that people may not have been experiencing prior to the pandemic,’ Aten said.
The number of Americans reporting depression and anxiety symptoms has more than tripled since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data from an emergency weekly Census Bureau survey.
Research has shown that spiritual support can reduce stress, trauma and anxiety amid crises, according to Aten. But that often happens face to face, he said, which is problematic when people are asked to stay at least six feet apart.”
The troubling statistics of declining church engagement combined with the increasing mental health challenges among the individuals and families in our communities, leads to the reasons why church engagement is all the more important now.
Three reasons church engagement is all the more important now:
1. Because drawing near to God in corporate worship encourages our hearts.
Notice the three “let us” commands in Hebrews 10:23-25 at the beginning of this article. The first is found in verse 22, which says, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” Notice the plural invitation, “Let us.” You can’t do “let us” by yourself. Combine this plural imperative with the phrase “draw near” and you have an encouragement to worship the Lord together. It is an invitation to draw near to God and to one another in corporate worship.
The increase of depression and anxiety among our flock is real. So is the spiritual malaise and lack of passion among even committed believers. Yet, drawing near together in worship encourages our hearts. It helps alleviate depression and anxiety. It fans into flame our passion.
2. Because holding fast to our confession of faith together encourages our minds.
Notice the second “let us” command in Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” This is an invitation to hold on tight to our faith by holding on to one another, declaring the tenets of our faith through song and Scripture and mutual confession.
During this time, many are struggling with fear and doubt. Gathering together as the church helps overcome our fears and defeats our doubts. It encourages our minds.
3. Because stirring one another up to loving service encourages our hands.
Finally, notice the third “let us” in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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.”
This is an invitation to “consider” ways to keep one another active in being the hands of Christ in this world. It is not an invitation to consider yourself, but others. It is a command to come together to “stir up one another,” to motivate one another, to get busy loving and serving others. Indeed, the best way to help yourself, is often to take your eyes off yourself and to help someone else.
The Scripture mentions the fact that many fall into a bad “habit” of “neglecting” the fellowship. So in response, a better habit is proposed, namely, to meet together “all the more” with even more intensity and regularity for mutual encouragement and sharpening, especially as we see the “Day” of Christ’s return approaching.
Psychologists suggest that it takes four to six weeks to make a new habit. A lot of believers have fallen into a new habit of isolation and doing life without the church during COVID. They have become inactive in attendance and in service. It will be challenging for them to break this habit of neglecting the fellowship and return to the flock. Their habit of neglect is affecting their minds and souls and especially their hands. For as the needs in our community grow, the number of available loving hands has greatly declined. Yet, thinking of ways to stir one another up, whether online or in-person, will increase the number of loving hands available for service.
How are you doing in this?
Your personal engagement with the church is needed now more than ever. Where is your heart, your mind, and your hands today? Are you out there isolated and alone? Struggling with fear and anxiety? Doubting your faith? Losing your passion? Declining to serve others? If you’re struggling as a believer, just imagine how others are doing.
Will you let us know how you are doing and how we can help you stay engaged with the church? Will you join us in obeying the “Let Us” commands of Scripture?
Please follow this link to respond to our “How are you doing?” survey.