Seasonal attendance disorder

Sometimes the local church can be hard work. It's hard to find connection and we may not feel like going. But if we stick at it, it will pass.

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(Photo: Unsplash)

The local church is hard work. Seriously. It can be discouraging, disheartening, political, mundane, stressful, lonely and overwhelming. But it can also be wonderful. A place where you feel loved, accepted, supported. Those experiences can both happen at the same church and with the same people. Just a different season.

Have you heard of SAD? Not the emotion, although it may involve emotions. I’m talking about the medically defined condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Particularly prevalent in Northern Europe and the lands close to the Arctic Circle, SAD is caused by a lack of sunlight through the cold, dark winter months. Residents in some of these places only see a few hours of daylight per day and consequently, don’t receive sufficient Vitamin D from the sun. Symptoms can include loss of motivation and energy, weight gain, and general feelings of gloominess and irritability.

I’ve had a couple of different seasons of SAD—Seasonal Attendance Disorder—when it comes to church. For me, there was a season of disconnectedness as I struggled to settle into a church home after moving away from the church I had grown up in.

Another season came while my wife struggled with her mental health. I didn’t much feel like being at church (with or without her), and struggled with feeling isolated and overwhelmed. It was hard to hold up the pretence and keep a stoic face when I felt like life was crumbling. And yet I would say our church is generally supportive, open and accepting. We’ve also experienced a season of conflict at church. But we’ve made up and keep going to church, the same church.

My motivations for going to church week by week have changed. Some weeks it is a sense of duty that pushes me into the car and drives me to church. Other times it is to catch up with friends or to see someone who will be speaking or attending.

There are a multitude of factors for why someone may feel disconnected from church. Sometimes it’s hard to be at church because of young children or maybe illness or grief keep us away.

My love for and belief in God never left, but I struggled to connect or, some days, even want to be there.

It has been hard at times, but we’ve kept going.

Yet sometimes even I view people who are struggling with church engagement harshly. We wonder and we whisper without knowing the full story. It would be better if we provided a sympathetic ear, without passing judgement. Even then, they may not be ready or able to tell the full story.

Church attendance does not save us. We are to be Christ’s bride, the church, in our actions and everyday lives. We are called to sacrifice, heal, show mercy and do the right thing. The rituals and repetition of church cannot save us. Yet they can provide an important connection. As Hebrews says, we are not to “cease meeting together”. When we stop going completely, it can often lead to gradual disconnection from Christ. And worship in community can lead us to a fuller expression of faith. 

"The rituals and repetition of church cannot save us. Yet they can provide an important connection."

But some seasons are harder than others.

As the author of Ecclesiastes wrote, “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens . . . a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (3:1,4).

If you find yourself in a SAD season with your church, it’s important to remember that it will pass . . . if you’re willing to stick it out. We cannot give up hope in this season as we navigate it—or our connection with those who are in the midst of it. God uses seasons of dissatisfaction and difficulty to bring new levels of maturity and understanding to our church engagement. He can use the wilderness to call us into a relationship and deeper love of Him and others.

So if you’re reading this in a season of SAD, be encouraged. After winter, the sun always returns.