Churches of all stripes typically suffer from abysmal attendance rates as a function of membership. On any given Sunday in Southern Baptist churches, for instance, fifty percent or less (usually much less) of the recorded membership is present at morning worship. Even fewer attend morning Bible study.
We do not tolerate such rates of apathy in any other context. Civic groups, for instance, require attendance at a certain percentage of meetings on threat of expulsion, and harbor no pangs of conscience for expelling someone who fails to meet the club’s standards.
Yet churches are curiously different, refusing to address the non-attendance of ‘members.’ One might say that the church should not treat membership as the world does, and in a certain sense, that is true. But the church should not treat membership with less respect than the world does, but more, and in different kind.
Similarly, we do not tolerate the lack of evaluation or the imposition of standards in other circumstances. We expect our plumbers, electricians, doctors to have met some minimum standards to ply their trade, and many of those trades require continuing education to remain licensed to practice in their area of expertise. Even volunteers, such as those involved in disaster relief and ‘Candy Stripers’ receive training.
But mention the idea that Sunday school teachers should be trained and evaluated and you’ll find much weeping and gnashing of teeth. It would seem that in the context of the Christian church there are no expectations of membership, and when it comes to handling the Word of God, not merely for one’s own edification but for the instruction of others, no standards need apply.
The effect of this phenomenon is that it is more difficult to gain membership in the Rotary Club or the Exchange Club, and once a member, to remain so, than it is to become a member and remain in good standing in the average church. We are required to think more, exert more, and feel more in our jobs, our hobbies and our interests (the example of sports boosters says it all) than we are ever asked to do in our church.
I do not speak here of becoming a member of God’s church universal, the kingdom of Christ, to which no man can add standards of entry or requirements of membership. But God, in his Scripture, has provided certain standards that his people are to apply. Participation in God’s kingdom, through the local church, should certainly stimulate more of our minds, our energies, and our passions, and in much more profound fashion, than does our participation in the world.