In recent history, it was a common thing for churches to hold extended meetings with guest evangelists. Quite frequently they would start on a Sunday morning with meetings that would run through Wednesday, or sometimes through the following Sunday. During those days, I traveled from church to church preaching the messages which God placed on my heart, as the result of many hours of fervent prayer.
As I arrived at a church, I was always amazed by the fact that often I had no advanced knowledge from one day to the next concerning which topic I would be addressing during subsequent evenings. Even so, the messages always seemed to mesh nightly like the gears on a clock on the night before.
In prayer each day prior to the services, the topics just seemed to leap off the pages of the Bible. The Holy Spirit always placed additional supportive scriptures on my heart. Then, as I was faithful to preach those messages, people’s hearts would be touched. We would conclude each service with prayer together at the altar. As people chose to attend those nightly meetings, they received another dose of God’s power, and lives would be changed one service at a time. By the end of the week, the spiritual “shots in the arm” everyone experienced would spring them forward into the weeks and months to come. That is why, back then, the special meetings were commonly called “revival” services.
When my children were growing up, I always insisted that we attend church every time the doors were open. My two daughters and son were always part of all youth programs appropriate for their ages. Whenever a visiting speaker came to my home church for extended meetings, we attended every service faithfully. Sometimes it did feel like a sacrifice. Yet, as one who had been on both sides of the pulpit, I understood that each sacrifice was well worth making.
Today, my oldest daughter is a public-school teacher and a much-loved wife and mother of my two grandchildren. My middle daughter also teaches in a special school for gifted children in a major city in Pennsylvania. My son is an Army Ranger, a First Lieutenant, and is preparing to be promoted to Captain. He serves in a special branch of the military. I give all the glory to God for their success, but also credit the solid foundation that was built under them as they faithfully attended our local church.
They say true Christianity is better “caught” than “taught.” I maintain that there is no better place for children to be caught by Christ than in His church.
Sadly, as an evangelist with a lot of experience in church ministries, I also witnessed the other side the issue of faithful attendance. I well remember seeing the sad, sometimes tear-filled eyes of pastors as they apologized for the sporadic attendance of their congregants at both regular and special services. Sometimes, a year of planning and a few thousand dollars were invested in bringing in a guest speaker. Expenses included housing and food. Promotional materials were often purchased, including radio spots, to advertise this special event well in advance. In almost every instance, special prayer meetings were held in the week(s) prior to the event. Sadly, even with all of this preparation, there were cases when, even though most of the regulars would attend on Sunday morning, very few would turn out faithfully every night. Far too many church people simply lacked an appetite for more of God in their life. This would often break the pastor’s heart, as he was well aware of how intensely his flock needed to be revived.
The Apostle Paul addressed this issue of sporadic church attendance. He enjoined his readers, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25, NKJV).
As a matter of fact, if you study the tenth chapter of Hebrews carefully, you see that Paul addresses interactions between brothers and sisters in Christ in great detail. Paul knew the importance of being in the house of God, not only for our own spiritual needs but for the needs of those who exist around us.
During this coronavirus crisis, which has caused a sudden and drastic cessation of church attendance, God has gifted us with the absolutely amazing tool of online ministry. I understand that not every church has had the finances or the expertise to live stream their services. However, for those who have, it has enabled ministry to flow from the pastoral leadership to the congregation on a regular basis, allowing them to feed their flocks electronically.
Facebook has allowed churches to easily monitor the number of people listening to their online broadcasts. Sadly, many churches who observed large numbers watching their services at the start of the COVID-19 crisis are now seeing that a large percentage of their congregants are no longer logging in on a regular basis. It has been said that “the more you stay out of church, the easier it is to stay out of church,” by many wise pastors through the years.
It is so very important that we all remember the rich and sweet experiences that “in God’s house” weekly fellowship brings. How glorious it is to sense His wonderful presence during worship!
We must not fall prey to the lie that just continuing to watch by live stream will be enough when the COVID-19 concerns subside. Let us heed Paul’s warning and not get into a hit and miss schedule of church attendance, “as the manner of some is.” Let us just as soon as we are able get right back to attending the House of God faithfully just as we did before, especially as we see the day of the Lord’s return approaching!
Rev. Nolan J. Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. His website is www.verticalsound.org.