I know I’ve had my head buried in the sand successfully getting people to come to church on Sundays. Better acoustics and better sound does indeed equal more people coming to Sunday worship but what ever happened to the mid-week meetings where people can study the bible and have open discussions? Where do people go if they want something more than just Spiritual Milk and Pablum as what is mostly taught on Sunday mornings? What do you do if you want to add some spiritual meat into your diet?
In recent years I have started looking at church bulletins, their web sites and have spoken to many church pastors. Since I travel so much, it has been hard for me to get out to my own church but I do get to speak to other fellow Christians all the time. Couldn’t help noticing that the most common thing missing from many churches is the mid-week meetings for adults. Cell groups were popular for a while but they seem to be disappearing as well.
When the question about mid-week meeting was put to some pastors they gave some of the strangest answers ever. In their replies they say things like, “You’re supposed to feed yourself” or “you can’t control those in the midweek meetings as it seems they all have secret agenda’s.” or “I don’t have time to lead it.” or “people are too burned out for mid-week meeting with all of their other non-church activities” and so on.
Then I started asking ordinary church members if they would go to a mid-week bible study. Most said yes and some liked the idea of a later evening study time between 8pm and 10pm rather than programs starting at 6:30 or 7pm. Late enough for one of the parents to slip out after putting the kids to sleep and not so late to get up early the next morning. Where it would be a social time as well as a study time, where a light snack and something to drink would be included. Where it could be in a person’s home or in a room other than the worship space unless the worship space is the only room large enough to gather in.
Has social media, which I don’t use much, replace the need for human interaction? Am I being old fashioned about how churches were growing 30, 40 years ago? Is it just me or has the church given up on the basics in how to draw people back to church? Do you quit bible studies just because only one or two people show up? Are we so caught up with technology that if we don’t get rewards every 8 seconds, it’s not worth doing? Has our attention span as Christians been reduce to something less than the attention space of a Gold Fish?
A while ago, there was a weekly bible study started by a minister’s Son. It was for both men and women and it was not initially organized by the church. The well planned and prepared bible studies were very successful. The church then sanctioned the study and it went on for years. Suddenly it was cancelled. The reason wasn’t really clear but there were suggestions like, half the people were from other churches, they were growing inwards and not outwards. A few people said that the program was self-sustaining but it was not generating any income for the operations of the church. Seriously! The church was more concerned about profit!
After the first few years the bible study grew to a few hundred people. Then the bible study stopped growing but it stayed strong for a number of years. No one was certain if the growth peaked because the room they were meeting in was not large enough for more people, or because there wasn’t any more room for parking or because no one was sharing what they learned. There was about a 15 to 25% annual turnover of people. That makes for a very successful program considering some churches have an annual turnover of 50 to 60% for Sunday morning services which suggests there is a lot of spiritual milk being served and little to no spiritual meat being offered any other time through the week to keep people there. This bible study had both milk and meat delivered in the right order as described in the bible.
As it so often happens, this very successful program gets cancelled and another program with good intentions tries to replace it. The new program fails and now, three years later the church is desperately trying to reboot the Bible study because since it was stopped, overall church attendance and tithing during the Sunday worship services dropped 50%. Who knew that a bible study program not supported by the church was in fact helping the church indirectly in a huge way. This church seats over 1000 people. Just because you can’t see or understand how a successful mid-week bible program works or a weak midweek bible program works, doesn’t mean it won’t have an impact on Sunday worship or church growth.
There has been other events that suggests a strong desire of people interaction. Should a Monthly men’s prayer breakfast replace weekly bible studies? What happens to people after getting through an Alpha Meeting program? Some churches are good at promoting 12 step programs but what is the follow-up to that? Where do Christians go if they want something more than just milk? Seriously! Feed Yourself! Nowhere does it say that in the Bible but there are many times where God says he will send a shepherd to feed his flock. Where are the teachers to guide us through the milk to meat or even strong meat?
So if the church is not providing places for people to get something more than just milk, where do people go to seek spiritual meat? Promise Keepers, Full Gospel Businessmen’s association, Women’s Coffee Break, Woman Alive are just a few of the many great organizations. I get the impression that the attendees are mostly people who want more than just getting milk at church on Sundays. I think a lot of the people who go to these groups are people who are looking for some meat. The thing is, can you receive meat in large groups? The Bible says no.
Heb 5:11 – 14 and 1Co 3:1 -3
Meat is for those becoming mature people. Mature people become teachers. Teachers start teaching with milk and later teach the meat until those who grow become mature people. Maturity is not about age, it is about knowledge, experience and being well grounded in the Word. Jesus by example gave us the Sermon on the Mount which was mostly milk and later he preached meat to his disciples. Preachers spread the milk and teachers give the meat. So where does that happen? Not by just attending Sunday services. It is by being involved with follow-up teaching. People are asking for more teaching but many churches have stopped. Meanwhile I have discovered that some churches have never stopped and those are the churches that quietly move forward.
It is high time that the midweek bible study gets restored and restored soon if we want to see churches be sustained or even grow in North America. If the church you’re attending is growing and there is no mid-week meetings, how long will that last when there is a change in leadership? As an observer of many churches, congregations can survive with teachers and thrive without a pastor. I’ve seen churches build a brand new facility without a pastor leading the way but a church will fall apart if there are no teachers and where there is no meat being passed on for those to become mature in Christ.
By Joseph De Buglio