I recently read a fascinating article about church attendance in places like Florida, Arizona, and California that are heavily frequented by tourists and by long-term visitors from colder climates. Most such people were found to attend church with greater regularity while away than they did at home. When questioned about this, most sheepishly admitted that, while away, church attendance was seen as an opportunity to socialize, to make and meet friends, and to create a network of acquaintances in a new place. At home, established family and social constellations made this unnecessary, and church attendance, therefore, was less frequent.
This reminded me of Francois Fenelon who was the official preacher for King Louis XIV of France in the 17th century. One Sunday when the king arrived with his retinue for regular chapel services, he was startled to discover that no one else was there except the preacher. King Louis asked, “What does this mean?” Fenelon replied, “I had published in the royal register that you would not come to church today, in order that Your Majesty might see for himself what members of the court serve God in truth and who come merely to impress the king.”
This current study, and the historic precedent, although separated by centuries, both point us in the direction of much-needed introspection. Many of us do not attend church at all, or do so very infrequently. We live by the time-worn excuse that “you don’t have to go to church to be a good Christian.” While that might be true in the absolute sense, I would nonetheless point out that Christ Himself, though He was without sin, thought it important to attend and participate in weekly worship. By what standard of measurement do we feel that we are entitled to do less?
At the same time, those who attend church need to remember that they must do the right things for the right reasons if they are to have any value. When we gather as God’s people, let us not do so in order to be seen, to see others, or to nourish feelings of unjustified self-righteousness; rather let us be united, as the Liturgy says “with one heart and one mind” and thus keep Christ pre-eminent. Let us approach God’s holy altar with the only gift He seeks – a thankful and contrite heart.