Both prideful churches and Christians who put sports before worship are to blame for the "vast gap" some churches see between membership and attendance, said a North Carolina pastor.
Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina, wrote in The Gospel Coalition on Tuesday that he is seeing a "vast gulf" emerge in churches between membership and the worship attendance. While there can be good explanations for why the numbers don't always match, the gap should roughly be no more than 10 to 20 percent, he noted.
"Your church may have shut-ins, college students, snow birds, missionaries, and helping professions (like doctors, nurses, police officers, and firefighters) who, understandably, are missing from worship (at their home church) on many Sundays. You may also have volunteers in the nursery and kids scattered across various classes (if you count covenant children as members). Add that all up and you have a legitimate gap," he wrote.
"But not a massive gap. In most churches, those categories don't add up to a large percentage of the church."
DeYoung argued that when it comes down to it, both churches and congregants share the blame for these gaps.
He argued that some churches simply fail to mark when members have left, and keep them on their record books.
"Another reason for the gap is pride. It looks better in the denominational report or in the newspaper or on the website to say that First Presbyterian (or First Baptist or First Whatever) has a membership of 2,500 even if that number is from the glory days of yesteryear (and was probably a bit inflated back then too)," he offered.
"I'm tempted by pride as much as the next pastor, but Hebrews 13:17 scares me too much to let pride get the best of me. I don't want to be held accountable for a raft of people who haven't been to my church in years."
An unhealthily view of membership is another big reason for the gap.
"Some members insist that they be kept on the roles for family reasons, professional reasons, or out mere tradition. Likewise, some churches think of membership as a marker in time rather than a vital, continuing commitment. In both cases, we need a better understanding of church membership," he urged.
Church members themselves are also to blame, he added, given that many now only attend their home church once or twice a month.
"Too many members are putting youth sports ahead of church. Others prioritize the beach or the mountains. And then there are those who simply consider church attendance a flexible requirement, one that need not come before football on Saturday night, sunshine on Sunday morning, or homework on Sunday afternoon," he positioned.
"Consequently, a church of 500 may only have 300 of its members around for church on any given Sunday. Once you get to Easter, you can see the membership is full strength. This is an unfortunate capitulation to a consumer culture that has rendered the Lord's Day, even among Christians, a matter of convenience rather than covenantal commitment."
In October, DeYoung encouraged churches to have mission statements not unlike the U.S. Navy SEALs.
He argued that some churches are taking the wrong approach in the way they advertise themselves online, talking about "a casual atmosphere," "friendly people who will help you find your way around," "today's music," "a Starbucks-esque café where you can relax," "a Wi-Fi zone to soothe your inner geek."
He said that the SEAL Code, on the other hand, includes "Loyalty to country, team and teammate," "Serve with honor and integrity on and off the battlefield," "Ready to lead, ready to follow, never quit," and other more active pledges.
"To be fair, we can find scriptural support for emphases in both of those descriptions," the pastor said at the time.
"But with the exception of perhaps the notion of 'earning your trident every day,' I submit to you that the SEAL Code has a whole lot more by way of biblical language and imagery than does this very hip church website, which says 'come, everything will be comfortable.'"