FOSTERING ATTENDANCE AMONG THE MEMBERSHIP by Willie A. Alvarenga
“How to keep families coming back/maintaining what we have”
There is no question about it! God desires for the church to grow in number and to be strong. He wants the church to grow in number because He desires the salvation of all men (1 Timothy 2:4; Titus 2:11). He wants the church to be strong in order to make a difference in this world. A strong church will serve God faithfully and will proclaim the gospel to the lost (Mark 16:15).
Church growth and fostering attendance among the membership is a challenge that each leadership must face. I have seen and heard of congregations that used to be more than 700 in attendance, but now are less than 30. I have also seen and heard about congregations of the Lord’s church dying to the point of having to sell their building. Our present status with regards to church attendance is not very favorable and we must think about what we can do to find a solution to this issue. My assignment is to present practical principles with regards to how we as a church can foster attendance among the membership.
REGULAR CHURCH ASSEMBLY IS CLEARLY SEEN AND REQUIRED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
A careful study of the New Testament reveals a church that would come together on a regular basis. For example, the early church came together on Sunday to partake of the Lord’s Supper, “And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and prolonged his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7). The church at Corinth also came together upon the first day of the week in order to partake of the offering, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so also do ye. 2Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
We also see in the book of Acts a church that would preach the Gospel of Christ on a regular basis, “And every day, in the temple and at home, they ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42). These passages can be used as evidence to show that the church had regular assemblies in the first century.
THE CHURCH IS ENCOURAGED NOT TO FORSAKE THE ASSEMBLING OF OURSELVES
The Hebrews writer penned the following exhortation, “23let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised: 24and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh” (Hebrews 10:23-25). A careful study of this passage reveals God’s will with regards to church attendance. God expects every member to be present when the church worships Him. If members are not careful, the practice of forsaking the assembly may become a custom. According to Louw and Nida, this word denotes a pattern of behavior more or less fixed by tradition and generally sanctioned by the society Sadly, many members have fallen into the practice of forsaking the assembling. Most of them provide reasons for forsaking the assembly that are not justifiable before God.
The phrase “the day drawing night” has been given various interpretations. Some believe this phrase refers to the first day of the week when the church comes together for worship. Others believe that it makes a reference to the Second Coming of Christ. Others argue that it refers to the day of judgement, while some believe it is a clear reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. The two interpretations that would fit the context would be the Second Coming of Christ or the destruction of Jerusalem. Both interpretations do not alter the context of the passage and the book itself. Even though no one knew about the day Christ would return (Matthew 24:36, 44), Christian still knew that it could happen at any time, and they needed to be ready for that glorious day. The context of Hebrews 10:25 with regards to the Second Coming of Christ is supported, as some argue, by Hebrews 9:28 where the Second Coming is mentioned. Hebrews 10:37 also comments on the Second Coming of Christ. The word “drawing night” from the Greek engizo has also been used to argue in favor of the Second Coming of Christ. This word appears 42 times in the New Testament. Most of the time, this word is used in the context of the Second Coming (e.g., Romans 13:12; James 5:8; 1 Peter 4:7). Based on these two passages, and the usage of the word engizo, some have concluded that the phrase, “the day drawing night” is a reference to the Second Coming of Christ.
Those who argue in favor of the destruction of Jerusalem based their conclusion on several arguments. One of those arguments is the date of the book of Hebrews. It is argued that since the book was written at about 60-67 AD, it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. Christians were very familiar with this event, since the Lord has given them information that would help them to be aware of it (cf. Matthew 24:1-32). In my own personal opinion, I do not believe that these two interpretations are in conflict with the context of the passage under consideration.
Let us now direct our attention to ways on which we can foster attendance among the membership. Let us examine ways that are not in conflict with what the Bible teaches. There is always a good and a bad way to do things. We always want to make sure we do only those things God authorize in His Word (cf. Colossians 3:17; 1 Peter 4:11).
WAYS TO FOSTER ATTENDANCE AMONG THE MEMBERSHIP
Elders and ministers must encourage the membership to remain faithful to God
Elders and ministers must encourage each member to be faithful to God, since faithfulness to our God will help us to strengthen church attendance. As a minister of the Gospel, the apostle Paul strived to encourage each member to maintain their faithfulness to the Lord. Let us notice what Paul wrote to the saints at Philippi, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ: that, whether I come and see you or be absent, I may hear of your state, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one soul striving for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). He also stated, “Wherefore, my brethren beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 4:1). To the saints at Ephesus, he wrote, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, 2with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). To the saints at Colossae, he wrote, “If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. 2Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. 3For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
This is the kind of exhortation the church needs today. Paul gives us an example of the kind of encouragement leaders must provide for the local congregations. If this kind of encouragement is absent from the elders and ministers, then the congregation will suffer, and will get discouraged.
As ministers and elders, there must be the acknowledgment of Satan’s attacks against the church. The apostle Peter wrote, “Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). A study of this passage shows how the enemy, our adversary the devil, walks about as a roaring lion seeking to destroy the church. The Greek grammar of the verb, “walks” reveals that he does this on a continual basis. This is the reason why the church must be encouraged to stand firm in the Lord (Ephesians 6:10-18).
The church must remember that we now live for Christ (Philippians 1:21), and as such, our main emphasis is to please the Lord and not ourselves.
Elders and ministers must emphasize church members the benefits of coming back to services
We must remind ourselves continually of the great things that take place every time we come together as the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. First of all, every time we come together, we enjoy the blessing and the privilege of worshiping the Creator of heaven and earth. What a great blessing it is to sing praises to God, to direct our minds to the throne of grace through our prayers, to partake of the Lord’s Supper, to give of our means to the work of the Lord, and to listen to His Word being preached. Brethren, these are great blessings we enjoy when we come together upon the first day of every week!
Second, we not only enjoy the blessing of worshiping God, but we also enjoy the blessing of having fellowship with one another. The psalmist once wrote, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1). The early church is a great example of this great fellowship. Notice what Luke tells us with regards to the early church, “And day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, 47praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved” (Acts 2:46-47). The purpose of coming together is for the benefit of encouraging one another. This is what the Hebrews writer tells us, “and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh” (Hebrews 10:24-25). It is a great source of encouragement when everyone is present to read God’s Word, and worship the Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
Third, when we come back to services, we enjoy the opportunity and the blessing to hear another sermon, which will help us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Elders and ministers must emphasize the need to grow in the knowledge of God’s Word. If the church is to be strong in the faith, she must be strong in Bible knowledge, otherwise, such church will be destroyed (Hosea 4:6; Isaiah 5:13). Coming back to church services provides a great opportunity to study God’s Word and to know it better. We are encouraged to handle aright the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). One way to accomplish this is by coming back to services and enjoying the opportunity to study God’s Word.
Fourth, when you come back to every service, you enjoy the favorable circumstance of showing appreciation to the person who delivers the lesson at that particular time. You can encourage the preacher by coming back to hear another lesson presented by him. You can tell the minister how much you appreciate his efforts in preparing the lesson and presenting it to you.
Therefore, the leadership of the church must remind the congregation of the great blessings we receive by coming back to services.
Elders and ministers must encourage members to grow in brotherly love
Brotherly love is an essential ingredient to church growth and to having a strong church. When brotherly love is strong, this will help each member to see the need to be together with one another as the first century church did.
Jesus commands us to have love for one another, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35). This brotherly love must be without hypocrisy, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9). When members practice brotherly love, they will show this by putting others first, “make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; 3doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; 4not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others” (Philippians 2:2-4).
The early church spent much time together because they had so much love for one another (cf. Acts 2:44-47; 4:32ff). The more we love each other, the more we would want to spend time together worshiping God. The love that God expects from all of us is of such nature that when members are absent, other members are concerned and find ways to help those who struggle spiritually. When members are angry at each other, this will affect the fellowship that God expects from each of us. Therefore, if the church is to have a strong membership, she must emphasize brotherly love in the life of each member, since this kind of love will help us to…
- Assemble with one another (Hebrews 10:25)
- Concern for one another (Romans 15:2; 1 Corinthians 12:25-26)
- Comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
- Correct one another (Romans 15:14)
- Encourage one another (Luke 22:32)
- Build up one another (Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- Be examples to one another ((Matthew 5:13ff; Romans 12:17)
- Fellowship with one another (Acts 2:42; Galatians 6:6)
- Compassion for one another (Matthew 7:12; Ephesians 4:32)
- Greet one another (Romans 16:16-21; Philemon 1:8)
- Honor one another (Romans 12:10; Matthew 15:4)
- Humility toward one another (John 13:14-17; Romans 15:2; 2 Corinthians 12:1-5)
- Submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 16:15-16)
- Love one another (John 15:12; 13:34-35)
- Forgive one another (Mark 11:25-26; Matthew 5:7)
- Pray with and for one another (Matthew 5:44; Ephesians 6:18)
- Report news to one another (Acts 15:12; 2 Corinthians 7:7)
- Serve one another (Matthew 10:8; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; John 13:14-17)
- Speak right to one another (Matthew 5:37; Ephesians 5:19)
- Teach one another (Matthew 28:20; Acts 20:27; Colossians 3:16)
- Accept one another (John 13:20; Romans 12:16)
Brotherly love will also help members to avoid the following:
- Conflict with one another (Matthew 5:21-22; 38-41; Acts 15:37-39)
- Covetous of one another (Matthew 20:11-15; Luke 15:28-30)
- Favoritism toward one another (Luke 14:12; 1 Corinthians 4:5-6)
- Hypocrisy toward one another (Matthew 6:1-8; Romans 12:9)
- Immorality with one another (Matthew 5:27-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8)
- Judging one another wrongly (Matthew 7:1-5; Luke 6:37)
- Bad influence on one another (Luke 18:16; Matthew 18:6-7)
- Neglecting one another (Luke 10:31-32; Hebrews 13:2-16)
- Seeking honor from one another (Matthew 23:6-10; 19:30; Mark 9:34-35)
- Speaking wrongly about one another (Matthew 15:19; Acts 23:5; Romans 1:29-30; Colossians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 10:10; 1 Peter 4:9)
Elders and ministers must strive to keep their preaching biblical and relevant to the membership
One of the reasons why church members do not attend Sunday morning Bible class and evening services is because the kind of preaching that is coming forth from the pulpit is dull and with no meaning whatsoever. As a matter of fact, such cannot be called preaching. Some speakers may have something good to say, but their preaching style is monotonous. Members fall asleep when such preaching and teaching takes place. I have had the chance to attend several congregations where someone else does the teaching. Many times I have seen how people fall asleep during Bible class because the way the teacher is teaching contributes to this end.
There are those who spend too much time preaching on history, geography and their teaching contains no practical application whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we should not preach or teach on history or Bible geography. We can preach on these subjects, but we must never forget to do it in such a way as to also include practical lessons. Our preaching must be relevant to the congregation to whom we preach. God’s Word can make us complete unto every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). If ministers prepare their lessons with anticipation and diligence, their preaching will make a difference in the lives of those to whom they preach. God’s Word has the power to produce joy within our hearts (Jeremiah 15:16). As Gospel preachers, we must help members fall in love with God’s Word (Psalm 119:97). We can accomplish this through a preaching that brings glory and honor to our heavenly Father.
When Jesus preached the Word, people were amazed at His teaching (Mark 1:22). When the Son of God preached about marriage, divorce and remarriage, immorality, hypocrisy, loving our enemies, people were amazed at His teaching (Matthew 7:28-29).
When the apostle Paul preached, people heard him gladly and they encouraged him to come back again (Acts 13:15-42). When we preach, we need to do it in such a way as to encourage people to want to hear more of God’s Word. They need to be encouraged to come back on Sunday evening and Wednesday night. If our preaching is biblical (1 Peter 4:11; Titus 2:1), then faithful Christian will want to hear our messages, and they will grow spiritually. And, those who are not faithful Christians will have the opportunity to think about their unfaithfulness and may want to repent of their sins and come back to the Lord. People will want to come back again to hear another message. But, if our messages are not presented the way God would have us to present it, then people will be discouraged in coming back again.
Personally, I recommend Gospel preachers doing series of lessons on Sunday evening and Wednesday nights, making sure that such series of lessons are practical and relevant to the audience. I would recommend lessons on Fundamentals of the Faith, How to Study the Bible Efficiently, etc. Such lessons will be interesting to those who desire to grow in the knowledge of God’s Word.
ADDITIONAL ELEMENTS THAT CAN FOSTER ATTENDANCE AMONG THE MEMBERSHIP
I enjoyed the opportunity of asking certain members of various congregations about what they thought the church could consider in order to encourage members to come back again to Wednesday and Sunday evening services. The following represents their concern:
- Pay attention to each member of the congregation. When they are absent from services, make sure you call them to offer your assistance and encouragement. Ignoring members who do not attend services on a regular basis will only hurt the membership and will provide an open door to Satan’s attacks.
- Make every Bible class and sermon interesting. Do not fall into the habit of preaching the same sermon over and over again. Make sure you cover all kinds of Bible subjects that will be interesting and relevant to the membership. Let us strive to give them something they can take home with them.
- Foster brotherly love among each member. There are members who want to be loved. When brotherly love is not present, they may go somewhere else to find it. I have known of members who have gone to denominations under the excuse of not being loved by the members. Even though, there is no biblical excuse to joined a denomination, nevertheless, as God’s people, we are commanded to show love to one another (John 13:34-35).
- The preacher must be prepared for all classes and sermons he preaches. If the preacher is not prepared for Bible class or his sermon, he will do a terrible job and this may be a reason why members may show indifference towards the preaching of God’s Word. The preacher must always be ready to proclaim the Word of God in such a way as to encourage members to want to grow in the knowledge of God’s Word (2 Peter 3:18).
- There must be variation in the way we do things. There is nothing wrong with doing things a little bit different, so long as those things are in accordance with God’s Will (Colossians 3:17). Congregations may try to do a 13-week summer series where guest speakers come and share God’s Word. You may invite guest speakers on Sunday evening where a series of lessons may be presented on a particular subject. You may have a session of questions and answers on a particular subject. The leadership may also allow the congregation to watch a particular lesson on DVD. You may do this once or twice a month. Lessons such as evolution, sin, etc., may be watched by the members when they come together. World Video Bible School has several lessons that can be shown to the membership on a Sunday or Wednesday evening. There are some congregations who enjoy fellowship after the Sunday or Wednesday evening services. Some bring cookies and drinks to share with members and so, by doing this; they will enjoy the fellowship with one another. Don’t be afraid to try new things, once again, so long as those things do not constitute a violation of God’s Word.
- Encourage members to participate in Sunday evening services. The leadership may encourage several men of the congregation and the youth to participate in Scripture reading, singing, prayers, teaching, preaching, etc. Members must feel the need to be useful in God’s kingdom.
THE BENEFITS OF A STRONG MEMBERSHIP
- Members will be exposed to more Bible teaching (Acts 2:42; 2 Peter 3:18)
- Members will be encouraged to live the Christian life that God would have us to live (1 Corinthians 15:58)
- Members will learn to appreciate the importance of coming together as the church of Jesus Christ (Psalm 122:1)
- Members will enjoy the opportunity to show love and encouragement for one another (Hebrews 10:24-25)
- Members will enjoy a clear conscience of not forsaking the assembling of themselves together (John 14:15)
- Members will feel useful in God’s kingdom (Ephesians 4:15-16)
- Our children will learn the importance of church attendance by our example.
- Members who attend church services on a regular service will be a great example to those who don’t
- Members who attend services on a regular basis are following the example of the early church (Acts 2:42, 46; 5:42)
- Members learn to overcome the sin of forsaking the assembling or saints by always being present (Hebrews 10:25)
QUESTIONS ABOUT CHURCH ATTENDANCE
In evaluating your church attendance, here are some questions you should honestly ask yourself:
- Am I really putting God first – before my own desires, before my family, and before everything else in life?
- Am I genuinely sorry when I must miss – or would I really rather be doing something else instead of going?
- Would I honestly be fulfilling my duty to God as well by not going as I would be by going?
- If some “emergency” would keep me from attending, would the same circumstances keep mefrom other activities that are of great importance to me?
- Am I seeking to do as much as I can for the Lord, or am I just trying to “get by” with minimal service?
- If everyone else – including my family and loved ones – were to imitate my attendance, would they please God and receive eternal life?
- What would I think of an elder or preacher who attends as I do?
- Is my practice in harmony with what I profess, sing, and pray?
- What would I do if I knew this was my last day on earth – if I knew I would dieor Jesus would come today?
- What would Jesus do if he were in the same circumstance I am in?
What is your conclusion about your attendance? Are you serving God faithfully? Do you need to improve?
We already have too many congregations who are dying. As members of the body of Christ, we must take seriously the opportunity we have to come together every time the church meets for worship. We must never forget that God is present every time we worship Him and study His Word. May we take the time to seriously and prayerfully examine the ways on how we can foster attendance among the membership. There are several things that we can consider, things that are in perfect harmony with God’s will.
One of the great things that will take care of the problem of members not returning to services is faithfulness from their part. Unless we are faithful to God, we will never take church attendance seriously. We may practice new things in order to foster attendance, but if my heart is not right with God, then such things will not result in a positive outcome. May God give us the wisdom and the strength to continue serving the Lord with faithfulness and gladness in our hearts!
“I was glad when they said unto me, let us go unto the house of Jehovah” – Psalm 122:1
May God help us to have this kind of attitude every time we come together for worship!
Willie A. Alvarenga
P.O. Box 210667
Bedford, TX 76095
(817) 268 3222; 545 4004; 681 4543
 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996). 506.
 Alvin Jennings, You Can Be a Soul Winner (Fort Worth, TX: Star Bible Publications, 1990).70-71.