Growing up I always heard that it was better to be accused of committing a sin of omission than a sin of commission. That way, you could always chalk your sin up to forgetfulness, ignorance or thoughtlessness. The sin of commission was the bigger no-no since it appeared deliberate and calculated.

NON-ATTENDANCE: JUST A SIN OF OMISSION?
 
I fear too many Christians think that not attending church on a regular basis is a sin of omission; if it's a sin at all, it would be a little one. No big deal. "Don't bring that legalism over here!" Apparently, this is what many pastors, elders, deacons and whole congregations think, since they have done little to address the staggering numbers of non-attenders.

For example, in my own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, just one-third of the formal membership of over forty thousand churches in the U.S. actually attend on any given Sunday. That means that about ten million so-called Christians are actually no-shows.

NOT ALL NON-ATTENDERS ARE ALIKE

Since not all non-attenders are the same, churches should treat different kinds of non-attenders differently. Here are four different kinds: 

  • Those who live in the area and are unable to attend: age or health prevent them. Such elderly or physically suffering members should be treated with special care. This article isn't about them.
  • Those who live (temporarily) outside the area and are unable to attend: military or business assignments prevent them. Such (temporary) non-attenders should also be treated with special care since their travel for work places unique burdens on them and their family. This article isn't about them. 
  • Those who live outside the area and choose to keep their membership with your local church: distance prevents them. Such non-attenders should be encouraged to join a local church they can attend. This article is about them.
  • Those who live in the area and sporadically, infrequently attend: nothing really prevents them except their own choice. This article is especially about them.

WHY NON-ATTENDERS ARE TOXIC


These last two types of non-attenders have a toxic effect on the local church because they render membership in the body of Christ meaningless.

In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul speaksof the body and its partsas a metaphor for the church:

"The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body."  (1 Cor 12:12) 

"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."  (1 Cor 12:27) 

When I take the pendulum out of my grandfather's clock, it can still do certain things, such as open sealed paint can lids. But that's a mis-use of the pendulum. The pendulum (a part) was designed to fit inside the clock, join the other parts, and provide the weight to put in motion the cogs which turn the hands which allow us to tell time. That's how Christians are meant to function within the body of Christ. A Christian who cuts himself off from a local body of Christians is like a pendulum opening a paint can, not a pendulum that makes a clock run.  

But non-attenders don't merely harm themselves; in fact they have a toxic effect on the local church to which they nominally belong. I would argue non-attenders have a toxic effect in four ways.

THE TOXIC EFFECTS OF NON-ATTENDERS

1. They Make Evangelism Harder

First, non-attenders make evangelism harder. Your church is called to be an outpost of God's kingdom in your community, a small but meaningful display of God's glory as you love one another and mature in Christ. Therefore, everyone who bears the name of Christ, as affirmed by your church, yet who willingly chooses to live their lives apart from the covenanted community of believers is practicing identity theft. They've taken Christ's name, but they don't honestly identify with his body, the local church.