Twice a year, Christian congregations scramble to make their best impressions upon a group of people they hope will have a change of heart: “Chreasters”, those twice-a-year worshipers who still have enough Christian culture buried within to honor the two great Church festivals. Congregations already know who their regulars are. The ol’ dependables are the ones who show up for Pentecost 18 in the heat of summer, the Festival of the Ascension on a Thursday evening, and all five of the Holy Week services from Palm Sunday to Easter.
Any pastor worth his salt knows he’s got those dear souls in the bag. On to the next round of potential recruits! And who might this be? Well, of course, you can always street preach and hope to attract the thoroughgoing pagan, dragging them all the way from the sticky bonds of worldliness into the freedom of the Gospel. But the success rate is quite low (statistically speaking) and how many pastors really have the guts to find a public square and start barking?
The next most obvious group to pursue, then, are those who show a bit of interest and have some vestige of religiosity left: the Chreasters. So the pastor makes sure the visitor cards are in the pews and he comes up with a uniquely creative sermon sure to entertain. The church is decorated extra nice to convey the wonders of his parish and perhaps the ushers are even told to be on the lookout for visitors and to be “extra” nice to them, so important is the first impression.
But let’s be honest: if this is a mere attempt to assuage a little guilt on the part of the twice-a-year attender, is it really doing any good? I mean, if God Himself, all-holy, all-powerful, all-mighty, who became flesh and bore our sin and was crucified and risen for your sake is only worth a biannual acknowledgement, is it fair to say you really believe? If you are just using the service to check a box, can you demonstrate from the scriptures where God shows Himself to be a “check-off-a-box” kind of deity? Isn’t He instead a jealous God, who ardently fights for His people and (oh, by the way) judges those who reject Him?
Yes, I believe that is the biblical witness. So if tonight is a “check-off-the-box” kind of night, and you have no real interest in following up with the call to discipleship and/or active church membership, it’s okay if you stay home tonight. For you are not fooling anyone anyway, except maybe the pastor who is desperately hoping to grow his flock with an impressive service this evening.
It is always best to be honest in these situations, to “know thyself” as the great philosopher once said. If you wish to break free from the shackles of your childhood, now is your chance! If you wish to finally admit to the world you are a professing atheist or agnostic, this is the time! If you wish to rid yourself of the guilt of not attending all those other weeks (which attending this one time will bring about), then just avoid the service all-together. If you don’t truly have an open mind about what is happening at the service, who are we kidding?
How can you really expect to thrive in this life if you are not completely honest with yourself? And if there is one thing that Jesus does in any encounter with him, it is a stripping bare of our superficial appearances and a cutting to the quicks of our souls. Remember all of those who would follow Jesus and who would attend the wedding banquet, only they had excuse after excuse to turn away? And remember when Jesus says that if we would be his disciples, we should take up our cross and join the death march? (That is what he meant, after all?) So, if you aren’t in for the fight, why pretend? Who does it really serve?
And actually, many have already taken my advice. Fewer and fewer Americans are Chreasters anymore because they know that their church attendance is a lie. They don’t believe the creeds, they are only going to satisfy their parents, and they know they will only be back in 6 months or so anyway. The reality is that there are fewer Chreasters out there to be had anymore, and while that is nothing to celebrate, at least it reflects an honest appraisal of the situation.
Now, all of that said, I have known a Chreaster or two who had fallen away from the Church and attended a service due to that old-fashioned tug to worship the Creator. And through follow-up, they became a member in good standing and, much more importantly, demonstrated that they were indeed those who had been called by God into His Kingdom.
So, I suppose we shouldn’t give up on the Chreasters all together. Even I, as a pastor, do indeed hope I will meet a new family or soul tonight looking for a church home. I like to think I am an optimist, after all.