"I can't make it to the services because of my work schedule … well maybe sometimes, but I can't go on Sundays."
"I get up early all week; Sunday's the only chance I have to sleep in."
"It's so hard to get everyone dressed and ready to go on time."
"There are so many things happening on the weekends, we don't have time to go to church."
"I really do want to go, but something always gets in the way, Satan must be really working overtime to keep me from church."
Haven't we all heard these excuses for not going to church? I can relate to the Apostle Paul's lament in Romans 7:15: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do" (NIV). Regular worship attendance is a lifestyle made up of several habits which can be changed just like others. For most families, altering the Sunday routine is a major lifestyle change. Understanding how people change can help you move from where you are now to where you know the Holy Spirit is leading you.
People change in five stages: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. Before becoming a Christian a person is in the precontemplation stage. Seeing no need to change, there is no intention of changing. People who are seeking Christ or who have just become Christians are in the contemplation stage. They're thinking about changing, but haven't decided yet to change. Whether we're aware of it or not, we weigh the pros and cons whenever we consider making a lifestyle change. What will be the consequences?
The third stage is preparation. People in this stage have made some early efforts and are collecting information. New Christians are in the preparation stage of making changes in their Sunday morning habits. Unfortunately, even mature Christians get stuck here. We can't move on to the action stage until we've first determined what it will take to change.
When a person has decided to change and determined what it will take, he or she is ready for the action stage. At this point it's important to remember everything learned in the preparation stage.
The last stage is maintenance. Perhaps many of the more mature Christians I mentioned really aren't stuck in the preparation stage; they just haven't reached the maintenance stage. With any habit change, it's easy to get discouraged when you "fail." People often give up on a diet when they slip up and regain a couple pounds. In the same way, missing a few Sundays is no reason for giving up on regular church attendance. This is sometimes called relapse. But it's not relapse unless you never go back to your efforts to change the habit.
Are you and your family trying to make worship a habit? At each stage of change, there are things you can do to help make worship a more significant part of your lifestyle. You must at least be at the contemplation stage or you wouldn't be reading this article. Start with prayer; ask the Holy Spirit to help you with this lifestyle change. Paul says in Romans 8:26-27, "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will" (NIV).
List the advantages and disadvantages of regular worship. What are the consequences of changing? Or of not changing? Reviewing these lists will motivate you when you're tempted to give up on making changes in your lifestyle.
As you move into the preparation stage, gather the family together and brainstorm. What is hindering you from making regular worship a part of your Sunday routine? For every obstacle, discuss at least one solution. For example, if getting everyone dressed in time is a problem, lay clothes out the night before. Turn the television off to avoid distractions and have simple breakfast items ready. Get to bed early enough on Saturday night and set the alarm. If Sunday just doesn't work, consider finding a Saturday night service. Be creative!
As a family, make a plan. Now you're ready for the action stage. Put your plan to work. Don't be disappointed if you don't have immediate success every week. Any lifestyle change takes time. After all, you're changing many habits all at once. And for a family, you're changing the habits of several people. With any change it's good to make short-term and long-term goals. If you're only going to church occasionally now, you might want to make going to Sunday school and church three times a month for three months a short-term goal and regular attendance a long-term goal.
At the end of three months, reevaluate your plan and make any necessary changes. Challenge yourself even more. Offer to serve in your church in some way and make another short-term goal. Everyone likes a reward and I think habit and lifestyle changes should be rewarded. When you've met your goals, reward yourself and your family in some small way, perhaps with brunch after church at a favorite restaurant. You will find that rewards are built in when it comes to making worship a habit.
As you meet your short-term goal, and make a new short-term goal, you are entering the maintenance stage. It's easy now to let down your guard. You've changed your habits and made a lifestyle change that includes regular worship. But what if job changes, vacation plans, or illness conflicts with worship times? What if one Sunday after another, life just seems to get in the way? Don't worry about it; just start your lifestyle changes again the following week. Remember, it's not relapse unless you never go back to your efforts to change a habit or lifestyle.
Cherry Pedrick is the coauthor of The OCD Workbook Second Edtition, The Habit Change Workbook (also in Polish), The BDD Workbook (also in Polish), Helping Your Child with OCD (also in Chinese), and Loving Someone with OCD: New Harbinger Publications; Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Anxiety Disorders: Lerner Publications. You can visit her website at CherryPedrick.com.