A View from the Pew: Resetting the Church Habit

We’re a few days removed from Easter, and many formerly faithful church attenders find themselves at a crossroads. For those who have underlying health conditions, just setting foot in the church requires courage, but for others, falling out of the habit of attending in person each Sunday was more about becoming comfortable with online worship and filling the time on Sunday mornings with other activities.

Rather than lecture about the importance of showing up to church, I’m moved to offer a few ideas on getting back to church consistently. Without judgment, here’s what I suggest to reinstall the habit of church attendance in weekly schedules and as a spiritual discipline:

Put it on the calendar. Go ahead. Stop reading and take out your paper calendar or open your Google or Outlook calendars and set up a recurring weekly appointment on Sunday morning with a two-hour advance alert. Its presence on your calendar will help you plan around it, and it will force you to make a choice if you decide to do something different on Sundays. That momentary pause may be all the prompt you need to find yourself in the sanctuary more consistently.

Create accountability. One of the best ways to ensure you are committed to church is taking on responsibility. Whether it’s watching children in the nursery, serving as a greeter, participating on the missions committee, or taking up the offering, committing to a task will help you prioritize being present. Another good source of positive accountability is joining a Bible study. Being a part of a small group or Sunday school class will help you re-form bonds of community that may have become frayed or severed by pandemic isolation. You will find that you want to be there for your friends to give and receive encouragement. Your desire to attend will outstrip your sense of obligation in short order, and church attendance will be a joy and not a chore.

Open yourself to an emotional response. I honestly struggle to be emotive in worship. I tend to stay in my own head way too much, and when the choir offers a beautiful anthem of praise to our Creator and Sustainer, I can miss out on the connection with the Divine. Was it the choir’s failure to reach me? Was it the Holy Spirit’s fault I didn’t feel a sense of awe and wonder at the power and love of God? No. For me, it’s my distraction and my proclivity for intellectualizing worship, wrestling with Scripture and ideas rather than allowing myself to feel the emotions of sincere worship, such as gratitude, peace, admiration, and devotion. When I tune in to worship with my whole self, I leave church that day having been refreshed by a genuine encounter with our holy God. That motivates me to return again and again to be reminded that Scripture, prayer, and song, alongside my fellow travelers, will help me live better.

Set a short-term goal. Rather than aiming for perfect attendance for the rest of the calendar year or the season of Easter or some other arbitrary milestone, make it your goal to just show up this Sunday. Once you string together a few weeks, you’ll find that you are making it to church more weeks than not and that you feel more connected to God and your siblings in Christ. You will have reset your church habit.

It’s worth saying that this pandemic is not over. There very likely will be other occasions when your health or local conditions will mandate a period of time away from in-person worship. Go ahead and mentally prepare yourself for that eventuality with the stated intention of resuming in person after such a layoff. Tell yourself it is temporary, just as it was before, and you plan to be back as soon as your health and the state of the pandemic allows.

Most of all, do not beat yourself up. We’ve all made adjustments during the pandemic and whether it’s putting on a few pounds, staying up too late binging television, or isolating ourselves from friends or family, getting back to the people we want to be and are called to be will be a process. Grace will grease the machinery of that process better than shame.

I hope and pray you have a meaningful experience of worship at church this Sunday.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and writes a blog at newsouthessays.com.

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