In our small group this past week, we discussed the topic of Christian fellowship after completely a Bible study on that topic before gathering together. We challenged each other on our conclusions regarding what makes fellowship “Christian?” Some thoughts included, “if it’s something that non-Christians can do, it’s not Christian,” and “if it is God honoring, it’s Christian.” You might see where these two go in different directions. There wasn’t disagreement, but listening to one another and considering each other’s thoughts.
Our conversation, following the study we completed, then turned to fellowship in the local church. One person indicated that the church he attends has no fellowship based on his experience at the end of each service – everyone simply leaves without talking to anyone. We considered whether the newer tradition of shaking hands near the beginning of the service might be considered fellowship (mostly negative thoughts on that).
But the most interesting discussion occurred when one man admitted that he had stopped going to his church altogether. (All eyes rested on him at that point.) He quickly added that he would listen to the sermon soon after it was posted on the website, but he was no longer interested in attending the service. The reason – the music.
This fellow, from the Millennial generation, did not like most of the music played in his church. The music team often plays a popular secular song that the pastor tries to connect to the sermon. It was clear that that part of the “praise” service wasn’t scratching our study partner where he itched. He also questioned to need for expensive stage lights and sound systems, and referred to the full set-up as a concert.
As we each tried to listen well to our brother express his feelings and decision to stay home and simply listen to the sermon, another guy chimed in that he had made the same decision. He was also turned off by the music at a different church (there are four churches represented in our small group). While his wife continued to attend so their children could be part of the children’s activities, he had simply checked out of a church that was not meeting any of his needs.
The conversation turned to a more theological thought: should we just suck it up and honor God with our presence in a local assembly? We were reminded of one of the verses we looked at from Hebrews 10:24-15: “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
What happens when church no longer “stimulates us?” What do we do when there is no encouragement found there? What if the church even loses sight of “the day drawing near?” These are hard questions and remind me of a book I read several years ago entitled, “Why Men Hate Going to Church.” The simple premise of that book, written over 20 years ago, is that the local church is geared toward women and children, and sometimes old people. Men simply get a pancake breakfast once a quarter, or can volunteer to help with the children. It seems that churches did not get the message contained in that book.
At the end of our discussion, one man said, “This is my church. This is where I’m challenged. This is where I learn to follow Christ. And I don’t have to sing.”
Here’s the concluding thought: With churches spending lots of money, equipment and effort to reach non-Christians, unchurched, nominal Christians and the like, while losing Christian men who want to be challenged in their faith and act like men (1 Corinthians 16:13), where else can these men go to grow in Christ? It seems to be more of a dilemma that we realize.
Side note: As I thought more about this topic since our small group met, I was reminded that many church websites also put their praise music team in a prominent position on their web page. “Above the fold” is a term in web development that comes from the newspaper industry. It means what someone can see on the top of a folder newspaper (above the fold and below the fold are the two halves of a newspaper’s front page). For websites, it means that the viewer does not have to scroll down. It implies that this is the most important thing the reader should know. (Think of old newspapers you’ve seen regarding Pearl Harbor, the Space Shuttle, or 9-11 World Trade Center attack—no one remembers what’s below the fold.)
I looked at the websites of the fourteen largest Protestant churches I could think of here in San Antonio (nothing scientific). Nine of those websites (a full 64%) had a background or picture of the praise team (one choir) above the fold – that’s the first thing a visitor to the churches website would see. The next most popular item (at 14%) was a notice for a women’s or children’s program (probably a seasonal thing that changes from time to time, but I am again reminded of Why Men Hate Going to Church.