Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:50-53
Many “mainline” Christian denominations are suffering from declining attendance. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is but one of the mainline denominations, and, well – when you’re in church, look left and right, and you can attest that there just aren’t as many people attending church as there were in the “good ‘ole days”. I am not making light of this fact. I clearly remember as a child seeing the Catholic church that I grew up in nearly filled at every mass. Special church festivals brought in even more followers. It was exciting to see the pews filled, hearing the voices singing loudly in praise to God, and the parade of people coming forth for Eucharist. The Lutheran church at that time was busy too – all mainline churches were busy. What happened?
As I mentioned, I grew up in a Roman Catholic church. A strict Roman Catholic church. The expectation of church attendance was unwavering, and a priest might question a wanton follower as to the reason for their absence. How might you respond to my questioning your absences today? Are you doing a disservice to your children by not giving them a religious foundation from which they can build ethical and moral values throughout their entire lives?
I was asked recently why the fundamentalist/non-denominational type churches are seemingly filled to the brim, while our Lutheran “mainline” services are becoming more and more sparse. The people who asked me this wondered if it’s because we don’t use contemporary music or worship styles. Could be. But trends are showing more and more young people attending old style, traditional worship services. For instance, I recently read of a Catholic church that has returned to the Latin mass, and it was packed with younger families.
An interesting point that I discovered today is that evangelism is a requirement for many of the fundamentalist churches. In other words, as a member, you make a commitment to invite people to attend worship. I think that these growing churches have a good point. As disciples of Christ, each person is expected to share their own faith story. Why do they keep coming to church? Why do they give money to the church? Why do they go to all those church events? As they tell their stories, they are engaging would-be participants in what it means to be a part of something that’s important. Reports show that people want to be a part of something, and will make the “sacrifice” for something they value.
I would ask each person at St. Mark’s: When have you invited someone to worship? When have you told your faith story … and convinced someone that your church home is important to you? Think about it … if every person at worship last week had invited just one person, our attendance would have been 176 people. I challenge you … us … every one of us … to invite one person to worship each and every week. Let’s see what kind of difference we can make in our world, our community, our church, and our own lives.
Imagine, as Luke points out in the passage above, what it would be like to have our “temple” filled and people continually worshiping our Triune God.