Top recommendations for churches — and church members — in 2016

When I write about churches I visit, I am really visiting congregations or assemblies of people. They may or may not meet in a dedicated building. For Christians, the biblical term for church is taken from the Greek word ekklesia, which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” When people refer to their churches, often they’re referring to a specific building, but my columns tend to focus on churches as a congregation made up of its members, including leaders — and this column is no exception.

In this year’s top 10 list, I’m offering  recommendations that can strengthen and maintain strong Christian congregations. But they’re not only for church leaders: Individual church members must also take responsibility for their congregations. Leaders alone cannot achieve what their church’s members are not willing to tackle.

Resolve to attend church regularly

Attendance patterns for Alaska churches are some of the lowest in the U.S. Regular church attendance has strong physical, mental and spiritual benefits.

Study the Bible and its origins

Regular, personal Bible study has significant benefit for believers. Don’t depend on what your minister feeds you. I highly recommend studying Bible origins and translations. Several readable scholarly study books might help: Bruce Metzger’s “The Bible in Translation,” Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” and just published, Robert Hutchison’s “Searching for Jesus” will add to your confidence level in scripture.

Measure, discuss and confront loud music at your church

Many smartphone apps provide the ability to measure the loudness of music in your church. Loud music can damage your hearing and your family’s through repeated exposure. In many churches music is played at 100-105 decibels. My highest reading this past year was 117 decibels. A papercovering 43 studies of hearing loss published by McGill Journal of Medicine demonstrates how preventable it is. It’s foolish for churches to promote physical, mental and spiritual health but create hearing damage. Be proactive and communicate with your church leadership. Your church’s sound people and worship team must understand the gravity of this issue.

Be part of the greeting solution

Why support missions halfway around the world and be dismissive of the stranger who is visiting your church? Be friendly. Introduce yourself to strangers and welcome them. You’d do the same in your home, wouldn’t you? Church is your spiritual home. The number-one reason church guests vow to never return to a particular church is that they are made to feel unwelcome. Every church should adopt the 10-foot rule — meaning every member should be encouraged to welcome those within a 10-foot radius.

Learn about and observe the concept of Sabbath

Christians, for the most part, observe a day of worship limited to a few hours on Saturday or Sunday. A quick read of the Bible reveals Sabbath to be a 24-hour cessation of work. Its intent is for a physical, mental and spiritual R&R. Devoting only a few hours to the observance of Sabbath cheats you of the benefits God gave us at creation, and underlined in the 10 commandments. “Sabbath” by Dan Allender, “Mudhouse Sabbath” by Lauren Winner and “Sabbath Keeping” by Lynne Baab are excellent books about the benefits of reserving a day a week to worship, rest and restore.

Support community needs with direct action

Many Christians in our community avoid helping others. Evangelical churches here often ignore helping the poor, sick, needy and downtrodden. Appeals are often made to support world evangelism and missions, but the greatest mission field is here in Alaska. It is hypocritical to think otherwise. Roman Catholic, Orthodox and liturgical churches regularly care for and support community-wide needs. Why this divide exists puzzles me. The Bible says “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Use group study to replace dying Sunday schools

A distinct national trend has developed about Sunday schools — they’re dying. Some churches have replaced them with small groups that meet at various times during the week or sometimes on Sunday. A tendency of many groups is to read and discuss various “flavor-of-the-month” spiritual books rather than to delve into the Bible, digesting it and learning from it. Don’t neglect the Bible for these types of groups. Be courageous and form your own Bible reading and study group instead. Radical church transformations can occur.

Be comfortable inviting someone to worship or study with you

It’s a wonderful thing to sing about the “good news” of Christ, and be effusive over his presence in your life. If this is true, then share it with someone who may not have a connection with Christ or may possibly be unfulfilled in their current church experience. Offer to personally study with them or accompany you to a meaningful service at your place of worship.

Give back financially

Christians believe a key response to the value of the gift they’ve received merits a heart response in giving. Scripture tells us “God loves a cheerful giver.” If you believe your church is spending too much on overhead and not enough on the “good news” of spreading the gospel, get involved. Ask to be included in discussions of church finances.

Pray more, complain less

Prayer is one of the healthiest things you can do. A recent Psychology Today article listed five benefits of prayer. National polling data indicates that more than half of us pray every day, and more than 75 percent believe prayer is important to our daily lives. Prayer is not posture. One can pray anywhere and everywhere. Very few pastors talk about prayer in their sermons. It should be stressed.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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