As churches come to the beginning of a new year, they compile their statistics for the year past. We know that statistics are subject to abuse and that they can be “coed” to satisfy whatever it is that one desires to prove.
Statistics are neither here nor there. To the effective work of the church they could be forgotten. In fact many may best be forgotten if “head-counting” leads to pride. That was a problem in 1 Samuel 21:1. On the other hand the Lord commanded Gideon to make a count in order to guard against pride (Judge 7). One of the statistics churches often keep is that of attendance. For the most part compiling church attendance is more humbling than it is a temptation to of pride.
With regard to attendance at worship service, the most meaningful is the record that the individual keeps for himself. For those who attend regularly it is a good practice to question oneself occasionally as to why one attends. Is church attendance habit or pride? If that is the case repentance is in order. Or is attendance at worship born of a heart-felt need to hear the Word of God for one’s instruction and ones comfort? Might one’s desire for fellowship with Christian brethren be a contributing reason to why one delights to attend worship? Our Lord Jesus Christ desires that we come together to worship Him. Worshipping the Lord together serves to mutual encouragement. Besides the personal blessing that comes to the Christian through the Gospel, the blessings of fellowship with brethren are special as like-minded Christian gather around the Word and Sacrament.
But what about those who seldom or never worship? We expect this of heathen but not of such that profess to be Christian. What do they do on Sunday morning? Let us grant the benefit of the doubt that they faithfully carry on an active confessional life, confessing their sins unto the Lord, an active prayer life, an active study life, as well as an active worship life in their home with themselves and family. Let us grant that they do this each day of the week as well as on Sunday.
Yet corporate worship is God’s will. “Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together as the manner as some is” (Hebrews 10:25). There is a certain catharsis in joining with the brethren in confession of sins. Mutual confession of sins equalizes all, children and adults, rich and poor, men and women, before the cross. Together we rejoice for ourselves and each other as we hear the words of absolution: “Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, hath had mercy upon us and hath given His only Son to die for us and for His sake hath forgiven us all our sins….” The joy of worship is not what we are doing for God, but what He has done and is doing for us. The message of the living Gospel energizes the chords of the heart in thanksgiving for the grace of God, which has appeared to all men bringing salvation. This joy is ours personally, in church or at home, but it is a precious privilege to raise heart and voice in united voice within the assembly of God’s people and declare, “For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised” (Psalm 96:4).
Fellowship is a wonderful blessing. A Christian has fellowship with God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord is the Author and Creator of such fellowship through the Word of the Gospel. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The response of the Christian to this relationship into which he has been brought is a fruit of faith; the fellowship which God has created with Himself elicits from the Christian a “Yea and Amen” to the will of God, as well as to the blessings of God. One of those blessings is the fellowship with fellow believers. It is manifest through mutual support and encouragement of one another. Not the least of this encouragement is when Christians worship together. In this context, worshipping together says, “I need you, and your presence assures me that you need me,” as we walk in common faith through a hostile world to the mutual goal in heaven. This is true regardless of the size of the congregation, but it is especially meaningful in small congregations where the very existence of the congregation may depend on the activity and participation of all the members. Fellowship is a blessing, but fellowship implies joining with others. One cannot fellowship with self!
Finally, attendance at worship is a witness to the world. What does it mean to the neighbor who hears one claim to be a member of a church, hears the same member make a sterling defense of the truth of God’s word, and then observes that same member seldom attend worship in the church where he claims to be a member? Yes, we can and sometimes must worship in our homes as a witness. But when we have opportunity and privilege to worship in a congregation where God’s Word is taught and the Gospel proclaimed in its entire splendor, and we do not do so, our witness is muted if not dead.
Statistics are in themselves quite meaningless. But numbers do tell some things. They tell us that some within a congregation have deprived themselves of the blessings of the Word, and the comfort of the Sacrament. They tell us that some have deprived the congregation of the pleasure of their company and of the joy of sharing the Gospel message. They tell us that the mutual support system is not as strong as it could be because a link in that system is missing.
The Psalmist said, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord’” (122:1). With good reason! “I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright and in the congregation” (111:1). Surely we are among those for whom he prays, ” Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; And let those who love your salvation say continually, ‘Let God be magnified’” (70:4) until finally those who have rejoiced in the message of salvation are numbered among all those to whom the Lord says, “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
LET US WORSHIP THE LORD IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH
IN THE ASSEMBLY OF THE SAINTS