Turning Up

There are a number of reasons why church statistics make for depressing reading these days. One reason that I’m not sure we give nearly enough attention to is how often people come to church.

I find myself regularly in conversation with people who seem to believe that they come to St Mary’s far more often than I see them there.

When I was young, you used to hear people talk more about the benefits of weekly churchgoing. I’m not sure you do hear that much these days. Is it that rather than being a way of life, Christianity is seen more often than it used to be as something you fit in to your way of life?

I think that you get more out of going to church by going weekly. The cycle of the seasons makes sense. You get nourished regularly. (If you don’t get nourished, go to a different church or work out ways of topping up your God experience online or elsewhere). You also get more of the chance of the joy of friendship which isn’t just a sideline. Friendship is one of the ways that God touches us.

Turning up is also an offering. It is the offering of time that is so precious these days. Of couirse, not everyone ever turned up every week. But more did once.

A big part of the decline in actual bums-on-pews numbers could be resolved by rekindling the idea of weekly churchgoing. Once upon a time churches told people to do things for to do otherwise was a wickedness and a sin. In its day, that worked in its way. It doesn’t now. And I thank God the world has changed in a way that makes that sensibility untenable.

I’d rather tell people about the benefits of turning up. But then generally speaking, I’d rather be a priest who preaches joys not woes.


  1. It’s a hard one, that. There’s the constant need to keep churchgoing a joy rather than a huvtae – not to put barriers in God’s way, so to speak. And that is true, I think, for the bums on the pews as it is for the providers.

  2. Robert McLean says

    A priest I once knew always cheerily said ‘See you on Sunday!’ whenever he said goodbye to a parishioner, even if it were at the end of morning tea after Sunday mass. By being genuinely keen to see people again, most did come weekly as they were genuinely keen to see him again too.

  3. When – or perhaps where – I was young it was folks talking about the benefits of daily prayer and Bible-reading (and the upper-case was significant)…

    If it’s true that Christianity has become something one fits into one’s way of life, then I contend that’s a good thing.

    Christianity-within-life helps convey a sense of authenticity – if I can mention church into conversation with a random stranger, naturally, without worry that they’ll think I’m any more of a freak than usual, then something’s going right.

    There’s a parallel: I never liked in-church sub-groups based on age (“20s & 30s”) because if that’s all I’ve got in common with people, well, tough. OTOH if folks with which I have something in common are within +/-10yr of my age then so be it. It’s a matter of which is the driving force – not mistaking cause and effect. This generation says: first the inner reality, then the regularity of bums-on-pews will happen anyway.

    • I like this, Tim. And I enjoy the fact that I can share a church-based giggle with someone I used to teach, someone who is the same generation as my children. But there needs also to be the regular dose of magic …

  4. My congregation is, mostly, an older age group. We have a youth service, a family service and Communion service at our bigger church in the district. This year I think I’ve probably attended three-quarters of the Sundays – all my children live out of town now and visits happen. Illness happens. Holidays happen. I do feel a joy and connection to my church family – but I’m fortunate to also see them around the town. Importantly, they’re friends as well.

  5. Mr B has just offered the thought that regular church attendance is rather like marriage – you can’t just give up when you feel like it. Strikes me as a pretty accurate comparison …

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