Although it seems like a lifetime ago, it’s not difficult to remember Sunday morning church before 2020. Remember the days when we could hug without fear? I can picture Sunday mornings when I’d watch my kids embrace their friends with a hug or handshake as soon as they’d walk in the door: “Hey man,” and their smile was never hidden. I can picture Sundays prior to 2020 when I’d watch my kids be greeted by an elderly congregant who would unabashedly embrace them. My kids’ arms always hung a little awkwardly when this happened, but I could also catch a glimpse of a smile on their faces.
The local church is intended to function as an extended family. So, the effects of the pandemic should cause a sense of sadness because our family time has been disrupted. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been good and right to take precautions, but there is no doubt our local churches have been a bit scarred by COVID.
Only now are churches beginning to see glimpses of “normalcy,” and praise God for this. But most leaders confess that there is still a lot of rebuilding that needs to take place—and the most challenging aspect is getting families back into the pews.
In talking with pastors, youth pastors, and other ministry leaders over the last several months, it’s the families with youth and children who have been the slowest to return. Of course, some of these folks may have good reason to continue keeping their distance, but there are also families who have simply gotten out of the routine of weekly worship.
One pastor requested a meeting with a church leader after not seeing this man and his family for several months. The congregant matter-of-factly told his pastor: “I’d just like to keep doing church online. We can get up on Sunday morning on our own schedule, grab a cup of coffee and maybe breakfast and tune into church on our own.”
There are significant consequences that may result from this kind of thinking about worship participation. Here are four consequences of continuing to worship online, along with blessings that accompany returning in person.
Not Attending Worship Affects the Whole Body
In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul explains how the church functions as one body with many members. The analogy is intended for the believer to understand that his or her participation in the church is not only helpful, but necessary for this extended family to function well.
Put simply, your local church, which is made up of your fellow believers, needs you and your teenager.
The importance of your presence is not dependent on the size of your church or youth group. Both pastors and youth leaders are deeply encouraged when you and your family are present, and not just on personal grounds, but on biblical grounds. The truth is we all desperately need one another.
The beauty of the church functioning as a body is that while we encourage others with our presence, we are simultaneously encouraged. Worshipping God alongside our brothers and sisters fills us to overflowing. Serving amongst the body strengthens our human connections and honors our relationship with our Savior. The church needs your physical presence.
Not Attending Worship Causes Familial Confusion
Our children are so intuitive, and they will quickly pick up on our blatant inconsistencies. If we’re willing to take a risk to attend a youth sporting event or go on vacation, but not to attend worship, they will notice the inconsistency. If we allow them to go to school but not attend church, our kids will notice the contradiction.
We’ve heard from ministry leaders about families who have fully engaged school and school activities, including eating in close quarters with other children and without masks, but who still will not consider attending an in-person worship service.
To be clear, attending church does not save us or our children; nevertheless, God calls his people to be regularly involved in the work and worship of the church (Heb. 10:24-25). Most believing parents hope and pray that their kids will grow into adults who plug into a church community, and it’s modeling this priority that can have the greatest impact on our children.
Not Attending Worship Hinders Teenagers’ Spiritual Formation
God created the rhythms of life. Think of the lunar cycles, the ever-shifting seasons, and the daily rhythm of morning and evening. Think about the rhythm of six days of work, one day of rest, and God’s prioritization of this special day set aside for worship and refreshment.
Now reflect on the unsettling disruption we all felt when living in quarantine. While there were many challenges in this time (and many blessings!), the longer we were out of the rhythm of work, rest, and worship, the more disruptive and destabilizing the seclusion became.
When we get out of the regular rhythm of worshiping together in person, there is a sort of subliminal disorientation that results. For many parents, after being away from this normal routine for so long, they have simply lost touch with the importance of it.
Even so, Deuteronomy 6:4-6 reminds believers they are to teach their children about God and his Word diligently. That command to “teach” is not a passive activity, but an active pursuit of showing Jesus to our kids. One of the most important ways we do this is by frequenting weekly worship with the community of believers.
Not Attending Worship Hurts the Spiritual Health of Your Family
In 1 Peter 2:2 we read, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” We have lived the last eighteen months with the brooding threat of a virus that could cause harm to our children’s bodies.
But along with our attention to our children’s physical health, we should be equally concerned about their spiritual health. As we work through questions about their physical safety, we should also be considering the spiritual implications of a teenager’s being separated from corporate worship, being absent for a long period at youth group, and the spiritual atrophy that is surely occurring at a most critical stage of life.
God has created specific means by which we grow as Christians. Neglecting those means indefinitely will hinder our spiritual growth and the spiritual growth of our children. Singing in corporate worship, hearing the Word of God preached, taking Communion with other believers, and participating with other youth in the church are all part of the sanctification process that contributes to us “growing up into salvation.”
Thank the Lord for His grace and mercy. Because of His shed blood on the cross, we do not have to be perfect parents; we can’t attain to that. In these weighty times, ask the Lord for wisdom and grace. It’s by that grace and in his strength that we do our best to usher our kids to Jesus. And in God’s mercy, the most significant way he has provided for us to do this is through the local church. Go. You and your family are a needed blessing, and because of God’s goodness, you too will be blessed.