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I can’t say what exactly it was that spurred me to write about my struggle with church attendance, but there are times when I feel that nudge, and I’m so glad I heeded it and poured it out. It’s a little scary, of course, to lay one’s soul bare for thousands of eyes to see, but I find it most often helps me get to the heart of things and when I see that it’s struck a chord with others, I know it’s worth the risk.
So many readers have reached out to me in comments and e-mail in response to my query about ghosting church — sharing invaluable insight and encouragement. I do, however, feel moved to clarify a couple of facets of my church-challenged circumstances.
First, the COVID-to-online chute. It’s true, COVID and the related lockdowns chased many churchgoers out of the churches and fostered a reliance on online “attendance,” which proved a double-edged sword. What a blessing that technology afforded us the ability to continue worshipping, albeit in a more isolated fashion; a curse in its deceptive convenience — the lure of coffee, breakfast, and PJs while you worship is hard to overcome, but it needs to be. Because as so many have rightly pointed out, we are called to be part of a community, to worship together, and be the Body of Christ, not just amputated limbs.
But it wasn’t COVID that chased me online. I was doing the online thing well before COVID. It was laziness and a bit of social anxiety. Most who know me may raise an eyebrow at that last term — to outward appearances, I’m a fairly social creature. But the truth of the matter is, I’m often uncomfortable in social settings, particularly when I’m on my own. I plaster a smile on my face and I engage in the small talk, but inside, I’m squirming and longing for that place where the guard can come down and you can just converse and relate without overthinking everything. Or, truthfully, I’m longing for my couch and my cozy sweats and a cup of coffee or glass of wine and Hallmark (or Great American Family).
My church started offering online services years ago, and I began availing myself of them more frequently several years before COVID hit. Thus, the complete move online was seamless for me. I was already there. It just reinforced it. And now, it’s up to me to overcome that laziness and anxiety. Which is, in large part, why I’m writing all of this.
Second, several have suggested church shopping. I’d agree if I were unhappy with my church, but I’m not. I love my church. I was raised in a small church — a United Church of Christ to which my mother still belongs. It was an amazing family church in which to grow up. We attended every Sunday, and I attended Sunday School and learned about the Bible — “Bible Baseball” was a favorite trivia game we’d often play. We had potluck dinners and Easter breakfasts and fall weekend retreats and summer picnics and float trips. It was a close-knit, loving community, and I am grateful that I had that foundation.
I grew away from the church in my late teens/early twenties and, while I’d occasionally return to it with my folks (was married there and had my daughter baptized there), I kept my distance — from that specific church and from God, in general.
I began reconnecting with my faith in the mid-2000s, and I church-shopped a bit then, settling on my current one. It’s a non-denominational, evangelical church, with biblically-based (and sound) lessons, great community outreach (locally and even internationally), and a great pastoral team. The head pastor is particularly gifted at taking Scripture and weaving it into salient, powerful lessons. I’ve shared more than a handful of them here over the years. Yes, there’s great music — joyful, uplifting — but that’s only the first 10-15 minutes of the service, then we turn to the message. The church generally avoids politics — other than when they’re simply unavoidable. It’s grown quite a bit in the years I’ve attended. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good church and a good fit for me, and I’ve learned so much and grown tremendously in my faith over that time, for which I give the church itself a good deal of credit.
So, no, it isn’t the church’s fault I’ve been distant — it’s my own. I’ve drifted away and let convenience and inertia have their way. This is what I’m aiming at repairing. Being able to write through it and share it here is a blessing, as are the many who’ve reached out and shared their own concerns and/or words of encouragement.
To those who find themselves in a similar circumstance, feeling like they’ve lost that connection, please don’t give up. If it means church shopping, give it a go. If it means kicking yourself in the pants (after you put them on in place of your PJs), kick away. And don’t forget to pray on it. I will be, too. Just as so many of you have let me know, you’re not alone.