It happens often. I run into someone I haven’t seen in church for months and give a flippant comment about how we must be going to different services, to find out it really has been months since they’ve been there. No big reason, except life. Busyness. Out of the habit.
Sometimes they’re ready to come back, and other times, they’re honest enough to admit weekly worship services just don’t fit in their schedules anymore. I try to be encouraging (just in general, not necessarily targeting church attendance as the main goal of life). It’s interesting to me how those brief encounters in a restaurant or (usually) grocery store can spur another contact not long after. And through the Facebook messages or texts that follow, I’ve noticed a common experience.
Often times, those first few skipped Sundays are preceded by discouragement or distraction. It might be church-related or life-in-general-related. But the disconnect begins. They begin sitting on the back row or somewhere easy to slip in a bit late and slip out quickly. Other involvement in the church (or people in it) subsides. (Or sometimes, groups of people retreat at the same time. They see each other at ball games or school functions and feel those brief contacts with “church people” are a strong enough dose of church that they can do without the larger, more structured gatherings.)
It’s as if they’re looking for an open door, a way out. And they take one step, then another, then another. Then they look up and wonder, “How did I get here? And where are all the people from the church?” (I’ve seen more than a few people get mad at “church people” who didn’t pursue them, even though their departure was so gradual, it was virtually unnoticeable, especially since they gave logical reasons for not being at church when anyone asked.)
Some people slam the door on their way out. Others slip away.
I’m not saying one way is better than another, but we need to be honest with ourselves and take responsibility. We’re adults. We get to choose, and most the time, we love that power. We like that we set our own schedules and do what we want. Yet we also feel victimized by those very schedules. We claim we don’t get to do what we want. We can’t have it both ways.
It’s not just about church, but in general, if we isolate ourselves, we can’t get too angry when people leave us alone or aren’t aware of the issues we’re facing. If we engage with others, we can’t get too defensive when people ask questions, encourage us, and follow up to try to help us.
Engaging has costs. Disengaging has costs.