I remember sometime in the past being exposed to the idea that "the last thing to go is church". In other words, if a person is having a spiritual problem that dominates their lives, it will eat away everything else in their life that is spiritual before that person stops "going to church". Why is that?
I also know through years of experience that often the first time we even suspect that something is "wrong" with someone is when the person skips church without a valid excuse, or when they suddenly stop showing up. Why is that?
My personal experience with leaving a church doesnít help me much. I attended a certain church most every Sunday, both mornings and evenings, for about ten years. I also attended the mid-week bible studies, and even led one for a while. When I finally and abruptly stopped attending, I didnít get so much as a phone call. That was over ten years ago. I wonder how many people there have noticed my absence yet? I can guess how many cared.
Itís a strange paradox to me that one's attendance of a certain meeting, the one on Sunday morning, has become a "litmus test" for a personís spirituality. It is also the meeting that is not changed at all by oneís attendance (unless one is the preacher or the "worship leader", of course).
The reason why oneís attendance, or lack thereof, changes nothing is because Sunday morning isnít about individuals, itís about performance. The necessity of a weekly performance (commonly called "worship service") has been embedded in our Christian culture for so long that few pause to question it.
Iíve noticed that this performance mentality can work two ways. First, there is the situation where the elite perform for the masses. Itís the job of the professional Christians to put on a show that gets the amateur Christians "pumped up for Jesus", or something like that. (Professionals stay "pumped up" all the time; thatís why theyíre professionals.) Itís like the church is a spiritual gas station, only there are no "self serve" pumps at church.
The other approach, which seems a bit more enlightened, is that the everyone in the "worship service" is performing for "an audience of one" . This means we all gather to stage a performance for God. Of course, few of us qualify to be "solo acts" in this performance, so we need an elite caste of professionals to get us through this performance without making any mistakes.
Though aiming to honor God, the "audience of one" approach is scarcely more enlightened than the "gas station" approach described above. Where in the New Testament does Jesus ask for a weekly, 90 minute ceremony consisting of singing through a list of songs followed by a professionally delivered speech? When did Jesus reveal God the Father as a monster in the sky who needs his ego stroked by a regimented, planned-to-the-minute series of rituals on a certain day each week? Where in the New Testament are meetings of believers described as events where hundreds gather together to sit silently, asked to do nothing more than play a somber game of "Simon Says" with their leaders?.
Perhaps thatís the key right there. Attending church is easy. Itís so easy that thereís no excuse not to. A person must be really messed up spiritually before they start skipping Sundays. If a person canít do something that requires them to do almost nothing then they probably canít do anything else. And, since so much of "church" is designed to keep people "alone together", you donít get a signal that something is wrong in someoneís life until their last bastion of spirituality, their church attendance, begins to crumble.
There is, however, one thing I will say for skipping church. At least itís noticeable. It does send a signal, and itís about the only individual signal most people can send during "church". In a system where individual expression is completely suppressed, non-participation is about the only individual statement a person can make. There is a certain honesty in thinking "I donít want to go to church" and then not going. At least oneís thoughts and deeds are consistent.
What is not so consistent is "going to church" because you are "supposed to" and then mentally shutting down during the "worship service". The phrase "out of body experience" is often associated with mysticism and "new age" practices that Christians tend to recoil from, and rightly so. But I can say that Iíve had many "out of body" experiences in church. My body was in church, but my mind was somewhere else.
What would happen if some kind of "signal" occurred whenever a person was physically in church but mentally somewhere else? What if people turned purple whenever they drifted off into their own little world during "worship service"? What if our heads started itching whenever we stopped paying attention? What if our bodies and our minds had to be in the same place, or else?
Many of those who are there but really donít care would end the charade and do something else on Sundays. Their bodies would join their minds outside of church. Others who determined to stay would soon tire of the ritual and routine (and of being purple with an itchy head). They would demand something a little more up close, personal, and interactive. Things would change.
As is said, "ya gotta dream". But does so much of the dreaming have to be during church? I hope this makes you scratch your head a bit.