When I was about 10 years old, living in Flowell, I became fed-up with Primary; I did not like the singing. In those days we were not using the current 3-hour block, church meeting schedule on Sundays. We met at 9:00am, 10:30am and 7:00pm on Sunday for Priesthood, Sunday School and Sacrament meetings respectfully. Then on Tuesday afternoon, the school bus would drop the kids off at the church for Primary. I devised a plan to get off the bus, walk directly down stairs in the church building, climb out a window and walk home. This went on for some weeks, until my classmates invited me to a class party. I remember eating a piece of chocolate cake at the party and realizing that they were trying to reactivate me! Luckily, it was then that I decided to end my life of crime.
I am not too proud of what I did, and granted Primary is not the same as Sacrament Meeting, but it pretty well revealed my attitude at that time in my life of church meetings.
Church attendance is an interesting thing. Missionaries often hear while contacting: “I have my own belief and do not need a church, look at all the bad in the world caused by churches, all one needs to do is to believe, going to church is not necessary, etc.” I have a friend in Nederland who, when I mention church, thinks of a vengeful God who will punish him for sin with hell fire and damnation. He heard that to often over the pulpit as a child while his mother forced him to attend their church. So, for years he has not gone to church. He believes in God and is a fine man but is still repulsed with the idea of an organized church in his life.
Christ did more than perform miracles, teach Christian philosophies, and die on the cross. He also organized and established his church. The church was built on a foundation of Apostles and Prophets so that, through revelation, Jesus Christ himself, being the chief cornerstone, could continue to lead the church after his death. (Eph. 2:19-20)
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: (Eph. 4:11-13)
Did Christ ever teach or do something that was unimportant or not necessary? If not, then it is safe to assume, the church he organized was important. It was organized for the perfecting of the saints until we all come in the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, which has not happened yet. Jesus set a pattern for the Apostles to govern the church. After the death of Judas, Matthias filled the vacancy by inspiration to the remaining 11 Apostles through the Holy Ghost. (Acts 1: 23-26) The church was obviously intended to continue. Paul, who was also added as a member of the 12 after the death of Peter, spent his whole ministry establishing, organizing and building up units of the church throughout Asia. That was not an accident or un-needed effort.
The primitive church with its organization was important then and the restored church is important now. It is where many of the saving ordinances are performed i.e. baptism, gift of the Holy Ghost, the sacrament and Priesthood ordinations. It is a place to receive revelation. Members of my friend’s church go once a week for an hour, listen to the preacher and then go home. Members of our church spend a minimum of 3 hours together on Sunday followed by various church activities with each other all week long. Some members hold offices and all learn to get along with each other. Thus, the church organization helps perfect the saints.
When I served as a Bishop, I generally spent time each Sunday visiting with inactive members inviting them to come back. That experience taught me among other things, one glaring lesson. The thought of the first 10 seconds after walking in the front door is terrifying to an inactive member. It is usually the biggest hurdle for them to come back. They fear people will turn to look at them for the first time and think, “What are you doing here, after so many years inactive?” It is an untrue perception but it is real to them.
Fear of attendance could also be present with investigators. Think of the concerns an investigator may have. They do not want to fall into an embarrassing situation. What will people think when I walk in? Do I stand or sit when singing? Am I expected to sing? If we split into classes, do I participate? What is the sacrament? Do I partake? Do they pass a donation tray around and how much should I pay? Etc.
Several years ago when I served in a Stake Presidency we were invited as guests to the dedication of a new Catholic Church building in Fillmore. I was uncomfortable entering the building. I had no idea of what was expected of me during different phases of the service. I wondered about the above questions too. Also, was I expected to go forward for communion? I did not like the idea of the Priest handling my wafer. Would it offend them if I did not go forward?
As missionaries we should take time to explain our Sunday services to investigators. Answer their questions and put them at ease by removing concerns. Visit the meetinghouse with them earlier in the week and show them around if necessary. Tell them you will walk in with them after you meet them out front or pick them up and come with them. Members on joint teach can welcome them ahead of time to church on Sunday via email or a visit. There are also excellent video clips on the meetinghouse locator on the church web site.
Explain the sacrament to them before the bread tray is headed down the row toward them. The Lord said to not, “suffer any one knowingly to partake of my flesh and blood unworthily,” (3 Nephi 18: 28) but the handbook states nothing should be done to prevent nonmembers from partaking of the sacrament. They do not have a baptismal covenant to renew, so partaking is actually meaningless. Explain to them , “During the sacrament ordinance the members are renewing their baptismal convenient in their worship. It is bread and water and you do not need to partake of it but you can if you want.” (…je hoeft ervan niet te nemen maar je mag het wel doen als je wilt.)
Hopefully we will have investigators who are more at peace in their first church experience in the Belgium Netherlands Mission.