Youth, or for that matter, Christians of any age group, are not ‘attracted’ to church activity by making it seem more like what they’re used to. Every church that has tried this has found itself getting caught up not in the gospel or real spiritual life, but in an endless recycling of half-baked ideas that moves them further away from what they thought they were seeking, or did they have it right in the first place?
Church attendance is not increased by devices or by attractions, or by replacing the ‘same ole, same ole’ with something new. The church thinks it’s doing us a big favor when they throw out the liturgy books we’ve finally gotten used to, replacing them with slim, abundantly illustrated, footnoted, and explanationed versions, that have even the Greek transliterated into phonetic English.
Few people will pay any attention to the transliterations. The Greeks, myself included, know most of the services by heart and don’t need the books—know them by heart in Greek, I should add. I used to pray and sing the English versions of the texts, but except for the Lord’s Prayer, I have given up, tired of the frequent re-translations of once familiar texts. Hasn’t the experience of the other churches taught us anything?
No, church attendance is not increased by anything short of taking the time to really make disciples, not just telling the people in your congregation to ‘disciple themselves.’ The language issue is really a non-issue, because, as my son told me (and he is still among the ‘youth’), it doesn’t matter what language the liturgy is in, because if you’re there for the right reasons, you already understand what’s going on.
The Church, like everyone else, wants to take shortcuts, wants to do as little with as little as possible to achieve as much as possible. Much of what? Whatever looks good, feels good, sounds good, is fun, gives us a chance to show off our religion or our charity, but what of the gospel, what of the life of sanctification? Yes, we preach it and teach it, but there is almost no follow-up.
‘Invite your neighbor or an unchurched family member to come to church.’ Does this exhortation sound familiar? It doesn’t matter what church you go to, this message is preached. ‘Fish, go and do your job! Invite others to become fish caught in a net like you are. It will be fun. We have so many programs for you to do, the more the merrier.’
Now, there’s nothing at all wrong with this exhortation, but itself, it is not the Message. ‘Come to church’ is simply not the Message. It is not the good news. If it were, then people would be attracted to it like a poor man is attracted to a rich man who had limitless wealth to give away. People are not that stupid, and some are even too smart for their own good. ‘Nobody could be that rich!’
Why isn’t the church filled on the Lord’s Day? Where are the youth? Is salvation and the life of discipleship so unknown to them, that all, young and old, would exchange it at the drop of a hat for a trip to the beach, the mall, or the golf course? And if it is so unknown to them, why? ‘There are two or three days left in the Apostles’ Fast. Why not try to read a chapter each day of the gospels?’
A chapter each day? Not a chapter each ten minutes, and the whole book in three or four hours? Can people who spend hours of their time pursuing lifeless drama not turn aside and be quiet with the Word of God longer than one chapter’s worth a day? The suggestion even sounds apologetic, even sounds as if you know that no one is listening, no one is going to listen. No one obeys.
No, the Word of God is eternal life between two covers and an inch and a quarter thick. It needs eyes to read it mentally, and lips as well if read aloud, which has the added benefit of possibly drawing others in to listen. Hours of church attendance are nothing compared to the hour and a half it takes to read Paul’s epistle to the Romans, in effect, that is. And what is the effect? To truly be present when we are worshipping in church.
Myself, I am an unworthy, living an unworthy life. Like the Church, I don’t go seeking the lost sheep, I don’t go out on the sea at night casting my nets to bring fish into the Kingdom. I wait for the sheep to come to me. Like the Church, I should put up a sign that reads, ‘Fish wanted. Please apply within.’ I receive the call of Christ, and I respond. I don’t think about who is doing the work, but about Who is calling.
I was told by my dear sister in Christ who sits on the parish council, that I should not wait for the church to ask me to volunteer; I should call the church and say, ‘I have free time. What can I do?’ I told her, ‘sorry, that isn’t the way I do it.’ That puts me in control. That puts discipleship to death. The call of Christ is not volunteerism. Christ accepted those who responded to His call, not those who put themselves forward and asked Him, ‘what can I do for you?’
The Church that acts on the call of Christ goes forth to make disciples, and making disciples, opens doors to their hearts to the deeper call of Christ day by day. It doesn’t wait for the lost sheep to find its way back to the fold. It doesn’t hang out a tiny net and wait for fish to jump in, or for a whole school of fish. It doesn’t turn people into sheep and then scold or shame them for being that.
I was told once by a man who claimed to be a priest (and his claim was good, canonically speaking, he had been duly ordained) that he was afraid of the people he came to serve. I was astonished, but in watching him ‘work’ in the community, I could see that for him, at least, his statement was true. He was afraid of us. He said that all priests were afraid of their people. I disagree.
But a priest should do one thing that many are afraid of doing today—actually, there are many things, but let’s concentrate on just one—that is, of identifying the real spiritual resources among their people, and call those who have them. In this, the priest of God is truly an ikon of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was not afraid to call any man to any task, especially to the impossible.
Day by day, never perfect, never worthy, never righteous, never wise, but trying to walk by faith, not by sight, trying to follow the Master whose blessed feet tread not the tame path of religion, but get dusty from the world’s roads, following Him even when it hurts, even when tired, even when unhappy, even when tempted, even having sinned, even when accused, judged and imprisoned falsely, day by day.