Changing Our Thinking ... About Attendance Issues

Several years ago we started the Question and Answer lesson on the fifth Sundays. During that time, there has only been question I wanted to answer that I could not. The reason was simple. I just don’t know the answer. And it isn’t a question that can be searched in a concordance or even found in scripture. The question submitted was: Why do you people not realize their lack of attendance is such a discouragement?

It is interesting that the brother or sister who submitted this question received the message of discouragement. Why? The Hebrew writer said: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23–25). There is a connection drawn in this text between encouraging one another and meeting together. The assemblies are intended to encourage us here on earth until the day comes that we can go home to heaven and be with God.

This brother or sister understands the meaning of what the Hebrew writer said and thinks, “If someone hasn’t made it a priority to assemble with me and encourage me, then they don’t really care about me personally.” They’ve interpreted that failure to assemble as a discouragement personally. It is understandable to feel that way.

BUT, is it possible that the person who submitted that question has the wrong perspective? This question is written from a “what have you done for me?” perspective. It’s more about self than others. What if the perspective was changed? What if instead of interpreting the message from a selfish perspective it was viewed from the perspective of the one neglecting to assemble? Perhaps instead of viewing someone’s lack of attendance from such a negative perspective it should be seen in a different light. It should be interpreted with a different message than discouragement.  

What messages could their failure to attend send? One message could be the member in question is extremely ill physically and needs prayer and comfort. Another message could be the individual unfortunately has to work and wants to be at the assembly. Another could be the family is out of town and hopefully will return home safely. Another could be that the member is spiritually weak and needs prayer and encouragement. Another could be that the member in question doesn’t have a good connection to the body to begin with and needs to receive love and encouragement from other Christians.

The last of those messages is the most concerning. Jesus said the most significant sign of discipleship would be the love they have for one another (John 13:34–35). John wrote that if we couldn’t love our brother, we couldn’t love God (1 John 4:20–21). There is no doubt that God expects us to be a family. If we have a family member that has withdrawn himself or herself from our physical family, how do we react? We would reach out and see how to help. We would tell them how much we love them and miss them. We would do everything we can to reconnect and build an even stronger relationship with them. The same should be true when it comes to our spiritual family.

Paul told the Galatian brethren to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1–2). When a brother or sister in Christ fails to assemble on a regular basis, it is often because of some burden in their life. If it is a repetitive pattern, it often reflects a tremendous need of that family member. That person needs our help more than our judgment.

When you see someone who is drifting away from the family in their attendance, react with mercy and compassion. Reach out to them to see what you can do to encourage them. Build a stronger connection. Strengthen their faith. See their failure to attend as a cry for help rather than a cause for criticism. Bear their burden. That’s what it means to love your brother!